- Call for Applications to the Margaret Skeel Graduate Student Scholarship
The Nature Saskatchewan Margaret Skeel Graduate Student Scholarship in the amount of $2,000 will be awarded in 2022, to assist a graduate student attending a post-secondary institution in Saskatchewan in the fields of biology, ecology, wildlife management, environmental education and environmental studies including social sciences applied to advancement of conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.
The scholarship is awarded to a student pursuing studies in a field that complements the goals of Nature Saskatchewan: to promote appreciation and understanding of our natural environment, and support research to protect and conserve natural ecosystems and their biodiversity. We work for sustainable use of Saskatchewan's natural heritage, ensuring survival of all native species and representative natural areas, as well as maintenance of healthy and diverse wildlife populations throughout the province. We aim to educate and to stimulate research to increase knowledge of all aspects of the natural world. Research that will contribute to resolving current conservation problems have a special priority.
The Margaret Skeel Graduate Student Scholarship must be applied to tuition and associated costs at the named institution. For more information, contact our office by email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 306-780-9273 (in Regina) or 1-800-667-4668 (SK only).
Please include the following documents:
- An updated resume with a cover letter
- A full description of your present and/or proposed research
- A transcript of the undergraduate and graduate courses completed so far and those currently enrolled in
- An indication of what other source(s) of funding you hope to rely on to complete your studies
- Letter of References are optional
Application Deadline: December 31, 2021
Winner Announced: January 31, 2022
Please submit your completed application to the Scholarship Committee: email@example.com
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206-1860 Lorne Street
Regina, SK S4P 2L7
- The Rare Plant Rescue team had a great summer!
The last trip of the year, in the south of the divide, Ashley and Spencer found themselves searching for the elusive Tiny Cryptantha. Five quarter sections, ten days, and hot weather to boot. The duo traversed up and down hills, crawled through dense rose bushes and the odd thick patch of trees within the deep coulees. They both harnessed their inner mountain goats and scaled rocky cliffs sides and eroded banks all in an effort to find tiny crypt.
This trip contained a plethora of landscapes, and each quarter was full of fun surprises and some excellent opportunities for photos. The amount of wildlife we saw was utterly ridiculous, the winding river beds make great hiding places for hares, mule deer and snakes. We learned to always be on the lookout as you never knew what was going to come flying out of the brush if you got too close. Both adventurers came very close to multiple deer and we each took our turn with the quick jump scares that the hares give you when they rocket out of their hiding places.
We learned a lot about what goes into the ranches out here and gained a ton of respect for the people who put in all that hard work year after year. One day a landowner’s son joined us for a chat and we learned more than we both thought possible about the region of Saskatchewan south of the divide.
Nothing could stop the dynamic duo from carrying out their mission. Well, nothing except muddy roads that is. In the end a ten-kilometer muddy road stopped the team from finishing the last quarter with still no sign of the rare Cryptantha. While the trip and the summer are now ending, both search members are grateful for the excellent opportunity. It has been an amazing summer learning, exploring, and expanding our networks of people. Saskatchewan is full of hidden gems and the main recommendation from the RPR crew is get outside and explore your backyard! You never know what you will find out there.
Thanks to Nature Saskatchewan for the wonderful opportunity to be out in nature exploring and living the dream. Cheers to all who have tuned into our adventures this summer! It’s been real!
- A Summer of Adventures for the Rare Plant Rescue Assistant
What a summer of adventures and learning experiences with Nature Saskatchewan! I got to visit areas of the province I have never been.
The summer started out by Leader looking for Slender Mouse-ear-cress. Sadly, I didn’t get to find that one, but I got the chance to meet amazing landowners and explore the beautiful prairies. This trip was my first experience with field work, so my feet were definitely sore by the end. Thankfully my feet have toughened up so I can handle the hiking better now. This was my first experience with transect work as well so I learned a lot! During our training before this trip we couldn’t do transect work because we got snowed out (in late May)! Lucky for me and the search crew, we had a great teacher Emily who got us all prepped and ready to search.
Later in June we searched for Dwarf Woolly-heads, sadly we did not find any this trip, but I got close to some cute cows and saw bird species at risk. This was the hottest trip of the summer, and we took breaks to be able to handle the heat. I learned many new plant species’ names. This summer has not helped to improve my posture; many of our target plants are very tiny so it requires slow and hunched walking.
In July we went south to search for Dwarf Woolly-heads again and were lucky to find an occurrence in a new RM! This expanded the known location of this species. Until then, the species were only found in one RM, but that has expanded this summer. We also found the DWH (federally listed species) surrounded by a provincially rare plant, pincushion plant. Each morning of this trip the coyotes would sing at the same time, and they sounded so happy to see each other. While looking for the Dwarf Woolly-heads, we found hundreds of frogs, Morman Crickets (bigger than the frogs) and we even got to see a weasel. On this trip we also encountered many bird species at risk including a few Ferruginous Hawks, Common Nighthawks and Lark Buntings. On the last day of this trip the cows were very interested in our vehicle. From a distance they looked like they were just standing near it, but when we came back at the end of the day we discovered the entire vehicle was covered in lick marks!
Towards the end of August, we searched for Tiny Cryptantha and Small-flowered Sand-verbena. While searching for those species we encountered a lot of a provincially rare species called Dakota Stinking Goosefoot! As the name suggests, it does not smell good and unfortunately I set my jacket near a cluster of them. While searching, Rachel and I were greeted by a horse that was looking for some treats. The Tiny Cryptantha searches had tough terrain. We hiked steep hills and the mud was not our friend. While navigating to the start of a transect I was looking down at the GPS and walking quite quickly. All of a sudden I heard a distinct rattle noise and instantly backed up. When I looked up I saw a clear image of a rattlesnake coiled up with the tail shaking and its head pulled up looking at me. I had a slight heart attack while I backed away. On the next transect after the snake encounter we were fortunate to have a bird species at risk fly over us! Rachel counted over 30 common night hawks flying above us. It felt really special to see such a large number of an at-risk species flying together. This trip was a wonderful way to wrap up the season.
My summer was filled with fun adventures and amazing learning experiences. I am extremely grateful to have worked with such a wonderful group of people who care deeply about our province. I am excited to keep updated with Nature Saskatchewan through the fall and winter, they are always busy doing great work. A special thanks to my amazing boss Emily and all the landowners I got to chat with and visit. Your commitment to Nature Saskatchewan was clear and allowed me to have these amazing experiences!
- One last trip for the Rare Plant Rescue Crew
The end of our last trip was a good segue into this one — our final search location we found more Dwarf Woolly-heads (DWH) than one could count in a lifetime. We had to leave because there were just too many for us to count before the trip ran out. Typically, we would count each DWH when we find them. When the population count is in the thousands it’s doable. However, the land which we searched for DWH this trip was just too prolific. Each ephemeral wetland area was packed end to end with a carpet of dried up dwarf woolly heads. Thankfully we got to use an estimation method for these ones. We aren’t joking though when we say we saw Dwarf Woolly-heads when we closed our eyes at night.
While the constant counting was pretty extensive, we were once again treated to many fascinating prairie sights.
Our resident photographer Ash Mills spotted what appeared to be 3 poops suspended in a hole. It is odd to see the feces of Richardson's Ground Squirrels (gophers) displayed, so a second look was given. Much to our surprise and delight the hole was occupied by a Western Black Widow spider who had 3 egg sacks not gopher poops. Crouched about the hole with a macro lens and impressive flexibility, Ash captured splendid photographs of the spider that can be viewed on Nature Saskatchewan’s instagram.
Ashley -- I have always had a fascination with insects. I have never formally studied them in school, but being out in the field for Nature Sask this summer has been an excellent opportunity to see some remarkable many-legged creatures. My newly developed passion for identifying plants has leaked into the arthropod world and now I spend hours trying to identify all the things we find every night. I have always deeply enjoyed photography and have finally taken it upon myself to get a macro lens so I can get good quality photos of the tiny marvels that I see. I am very thankful for the patience of my coworkers as I am always stopping to take a picture of this or that neat thing.
This trip we experienced a myriad of weather extremes. Days were spent on hot dry prairie, not a spot of shade to be found. The plant life was devoid of moisture that so easily escaped from our pores. The trip included several storms that brought little rain and high winds. Many mornings we would arise to see garbage and recycle bins on their sides or part way down the road. Several times our phones did chime or rather blare with tornado warnings. Many days were spent next to the precipice of thunderstorms, but only once did we flee for safety. Perhaps it is not best to be the tallest thing for kilometers when lightning strikes. At least the storm provided much needed rain to the area and cleaned our work vehicles.
Towards the end of our trip the musicians in our hearts could not be contained and a jam session broke out as the sun was setting. The air had finally cooled enough that sitting outside was comfortable. With two guitars and three voices, we played soothing songs and struggled through new ones. Audio recordings not in the public domain. Another wonderful trip. Excited for what’s to come next.
*Photo credits: Ashley Mills*
- Rare Plant Rescue visits the sandhills of Fox Valley/Piapot
Visiting the sand hills was an exciting change of landscape for us on the RPR team. Ashley was especially excited to visit the dunes as her last memory of the sand hills from when she was a small child involved eating copious amounts of sand while tobogganing down the dunes. Fortunately, it wasn’t too windy during our 10-day stint and nobody took any terrible tumbles, so sand consumption was kept to a minimum. Our mission -- find the federally threatened Smooth Goosefoot. The dunes we were tasked with searching had never been looked at by Nature Sask before and thus we did not know if we would find this species. It only grows in recently disturbed sand dunes and is in bloom this time of year. Spencer had estimated that the entire quarter would have over 40 occurrences which was a guess that was close but no cigar. In total the quarter section ended up having 37 total occurrences which he didn't think was too bad either. To the team's surprise, one of our search dunes brought up over 30 new occurrences itself. This was a massive dune where we spent the majority of our trip cataloguing the goosefoot present on the margins.
At first glance, smooth goosefoot appears to be this gangly, awkward looking plant with some green nodules on it. If you look closer, however, you see that it has teeny tiny beige flowers. Sometimes it pays to take a closer look! Ashley has been practising her macro photography skill on all the plants and insects we come across. Smooth goosefoot has definitely been a challenge to photograph since it blends so easily into the landscape. Good thing Spencer's leg is always available as a backdrop.
We also had a stroke of luck in terms of finding some provincially rare plant species. Beaked Annual Skeletonweed, which appears nearly identical to the Common Skeletonweed to the untrained eye, and Small Lupin kept us busy during our Goosefoot search. There was no shortage of these two species at our location either.
We saw Big Sand Tiger Beetles, Ant Lions, Velvet Ants (which are actually bees!), and a species of Sand Wasp to name a few. The Sand Wasps were particularly tricky since we were really stomping all over their homes as we searched the steep edges of the search area. This definitely made someone mad! Spencer got it rough one day when a wasp got caught between the GPS strap and his hand which caused the wasp to repeatedly bite over and over again. Wow was it was funny, but also painful. Moral of the story, if you go kicking down someone's door don't expect them to let you off with a warning. The insects are definitely two sides of the same coin as they are as fascinating as they can be nasty.
An unfortunate event saw the creation of these poems when a grasshopper landed in Ash’s freshly opened hummus container. Can you guess what perspectives each poet considered?
Wave of Hummus by Spencer
Minding my business, jumping around
I suddenly feel as if I might drown
Untitled by Gillian
Shaken and battered my film ripped asunder
the cracker bag splits, loudly as thunder.
Before scraping my surface, a surprise and a plop
the wind carries insect in one mighty hop.
With legs for singing and my surface sinking
a grasshopper struggles in my spicy slop.
Grasshopper hummus by Ashley
Out for a hop
In need of a snack
A wave of smell tickles my neck
I ready myself, driven by delight
For one great jump should bring me just right
I land with a plop
And find sudden regret
As i struggle to move on
For my hopper’s all wet
- Let’s Get Ready to Celebrate Monarchs Together on August 21st!
The last couple of weeks have seen a surge in Monarch butterfly and caterpillar (larvae) sightings. With the upcoming national Flight of the Monarch Day on August 21st, now is the perfect time to sharpen your Monarch identification skills and capture some photos and observations to share in the celebration!
“Follow us on social media to join in the celebration on August 21st” says Rebecca Magnus, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator with Nature Saskatchewan. “There will be something for everyone to participate in the virtual celebration, and participants can even win prizes such as a Monarch long-sleeve shirt or native wildflower seeds that adult butterflies need for energy to migrate!” explains Magnus. “You can start now by getting out and exploring your NatureHood to see if you can spot and photograph Monarch butterflies and caterpillars”.
Monarch butterflies are identifiable by their bright orange colouring with black veins throughout their wings, along with white spots on their black body and the outside edges of their wings. “Watch out for look-a-likes such as the Viceroy,” explains Magnus. “Viceroys look very similar but have an extra stripe on their hind wings that cross their veins.” The Monarch caterpillars have distinct white, yellow and black stripes with black tentacles on both ends. Magnus adds “you will see these caterpillars nearly exclusively on milkweed plants”.
Monarchs are a species at risk throughout their range with Saskatchewan being at the northern extent of their range. Magnus says “it takes between three and four generations for Monarchs to get from their over-wintering grounds, in Mexico, to Saskatchewan.” She adds “the generation emerging now will live the longest, making the full journey south back to Mexico to overwinter, so it is extra important that we help conserve the habitat for this incredibly important generation of Monarchs.” Nature Saskatchewan runs the voluntary Stewards of Saskatchewan program that works with communities and landowners to conserve Monarch habitat and help monitor the population each year.
If you see a Monarch in Saskatchewan, would like more information about the national Flight of the Monarch Day on August 21st or the Stewards of Saskatchewan program, call Nature Saskatchewan’s toll-free line at 1-800-667-HOOT (4668), text (306) 780-9832, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please also feel free to share photos, we love to see them!
For further information, please contact Nature Saskatchewan:
Rebecca Magnus, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator
Phone: (306) 780-9832
Lacey Weekes, Conservation & Education Manager
Phone: (306) 780-9481
- Hello again from the bird species at risk team, Rachel and Carmen!
Hello again from the bird species at risk team, Rachel and Carmen!
We have returned from a 10 day trip travelling around the beautiful areas in far southern Saskatchewan doing grid road searches for species at risk and talking to landowners about our Stewardship programs!
We were lucky enough to see a variety of our target species, including some new families!
We observed several Ferruginous Hawk nests and a family of Loggerhead Shrikes with some fledglings just starting to venture a little further from the nest. The Ferruginous hawks are aptly nicknamed the king of hawks! They are the largest hawk in Saskatchewan and have a beautiful colour. When they soar overhead you can see the rusty-coloured ‘pants’ and if you are lucky you might even be able to pick out the cinnamon-coloured markings dusted along the underside of their wings. You can also see their characteristic yellow grin.
We also had to outrun a storm or two in our first few days in the area and even had a tornado watch on our first night!
After a couple of nights in a motel, we set up our camping home base. From there we ventured forth on many more visits and grid road searches. We were still enjoying some wildlife right in camp, with the constant calls of Mourning Doves and some busy Robins. One morning we even had a Baltimore Oriole stop by during breakfast, which led to Rachel trying to put out a couple orange slices for them to snack on.
At approximately the halfway point for our trip we encountered a Common Nighthawk. If you see a rock-like silhouette perched on a fence, it is worth a second look because it may be a nighthawk! They will often sit all tucked in, creating a fairly smooth and flat profile. We also were lucky enough to find insect and snake impalements, courtesy of a very busy Loggerhead Shrike. Carmen was so excited that she did an impromptu dance number on the side of the road.
We had some wonderful conversations and even got to cuddle a couple of foals during one visit!
We had a lot of fun and learned so much talking to all of the landowners who live in and take care of this beautiful area of our province. That’s all from us for now,
Rachel and Carmen :)
- Young Burrowing Owls Are Learning the Ways of the World!
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 email@example.com,” 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
Melissa Ranalli, Species at Risk Manager
- The Voice from the Field - July 9
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 :)
*all photos taken by Ashley Mills*
- Young butcher birds are on the loose!
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
Melissa Ranalli, Species at Risk Manager