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Aug
31
Celebrating 20 years of Seeking Rare Plants of the Prairies

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Rare and Endangered plants are an often overlooked part of conservation work, most being small and hard to find in isolated ecosystems. Nature Saskatchewan’s Rare Plant Rescue (RPR) program aims to change this, and is this year celebrating 20 years of seeking out some of the prairie ecosystem’s most elusive organisms!

Focused on targeting nine species protected federally as threatened, endangered or extirpated, and seven provincially rare species, each year search crews ask permission to search suitable habitat on private landowner properties. Once located, information is taken on the plant’s health, phenology, and individuals are mapped and counted; this helps fill important gaps in the knowledge base of where these species are, how populations are doing, and what environment they need to thrive. “The past 20 years have seen tremendous success,” Emily Putz, Coordinator for Rare Plant Rescue explains,” by partnering with landowners conserving habitat, we have been able to search and collect data on Saskatchewan’s rarest plant species, contributing to the down-listing of at least three.”

Over the decades RPR has sleuthed out 720 occurrences of federally listed plants species and recorded another 556 provincially rare plants found incidentally on surveys, all during a whopping 559 individual quarter section sites searches! Once a plant occurrence is found RPR also monitors every 3-5 years, where they are able to revisit and map out how populations have changed between years, gaining information on whether the populations have grown or shrunk, or are being pressured from threats such as invasive species. Monitoring work is also a great opportunity to visit and reconnect with the wonderful landowners who make our program possible and keeps these plant populations healthy through their ranching practices! 

There are currently 92 landowners and land managers in the program, conserving nearly 260,000 acres of rare plant habitat. This habitat includes rare fragile ecosystems such as sand dune environments, prairie fens, dry prairie ephemeral wetlands, and pristine, but rapidly disappearing native prairie. “Saskatchewan has lost the vast majority of its prairie, with estimates of what is left as low as 9%,” further explains Putz, “Rare plants are very specific about their needs, they require grazing and they can’t compete against aggressive tame species, such as Smooth brome or Crested wheatgrass, nor against cropland expansion.” As habitat disappears, so do the plants, leading in turn to the further disappearance of species that rely on them such as birds, mammals, amphibians, and pollinators; species that humans also rely on. Nature Saskatchewan uses voluntary handshake agreements with landowners in an effort to conserve and collect data on target plants. The program works alongside the landowners’ existing practices, and the land continues to be used in a way that benefits the steward. “We rely on our ranchers and landowners to keep these plants thriving, if you think you have a rare plant or suitable habitat please give us a call on our toll-free Hoot Line, at 1-800-667-HOOT (4668) or email rpr@naturesask.ca,” Putz mentions. “Every rare plant recorded is helping to map ranges, monitor populations, and aid with conservation efforts.” Information provided is never shared without permission.

 

For further information, please contact Nature Saskatchewan:
 

Emily Putz, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator
(306) 780-9417
rpr@naturesask.ca

 

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

 

 

top: Rare Plant Crew 2022, bottom left: Provincially rare Low Larkspur, bottom right: Federally listed Dwarf Woolly-heads. Photo credits: E. Putz

 

 

 

Aug
24
A summer as a Rare Plant Rescue Habitat Stewardship Assistant

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My role as Rare Plant Rescue habitat stewardship assistant provided me with plenty of diversity in my work. It offered a great balance of fieldwork outings and office work (data entry, trip planning, land owner phone calls, etc.). Creating and maintaining a positive relationship with the landowners is crucial in the success of our programs. Local landowners and ranchers are an integral part of the work we do at Nature Saskatchewan, without their passion and care for their land and the species that call it home, we would not be able to search or monitor our federally listed target species.

The bird crew, rare plant rescue (RPR) search crew and I kicked off our summer in Southwest Saskatchewan to search for Slender Mouse-ear-cress (Transberingia bursifolia). Our first outing consisted of a group training trip around Cabri to learn different search and monitoring techniques that we would be utilizing throughout the summer. Though we didn’t find our target, it was a good chance to learn about fieldwork and build a bond with each other. There is no such thing as disappointing scenery when it comes to travelling through Southwest Saskatchewan and the hospitality is second to none.

We saw and heard many species at-risk around the area including Sprague’s pipits (Anthus spragueii), Chestnut-collared longspurs (Calcarius ornatus), Loggerhead shrikes (Lanius ludovicianus), Ferruginous hawks (Buteo regalis), and common nighthawks (Chordeiles minor). Many of the landowners in the area do a great job of caring for their land and listening to the happy singing and calls of the grassland bird species makes that evident!

A highlight that stands out the most from my summer was the encounter with a coyote while searching for the plant, Dwarf Woolly-heads (Psilocarphus brevissimus). While my coordinator Emily and I were searching, we noticed a figure coming up over the hill, thinking it was yet another pronghorn, it was in fact a coyote. He noticed us but didn’t seem overly bothered by our presence, nor were we bothered by his. After a few moments of him lying there observing us, he decided he wanted to get a closer look at what we were. As he made his way down the hill slowly and cautiously cruising towards us, I remember feeling more frozen in awe than fear. Oddly enough, there was no sense of danger, only curiosity and a mutual respect. Once he got down-wind from us and caught our scent, his pace quickened as he realized what we were and he cautiously ran off looking back every now and again. These beautiful animals tend to get a bad rap but this encounter will be an experience I will hold close to my soul for the rest of my life. The next day we found our target species, Dwarf Woolly-heads! Needless to say, it was my most successful and memorable trip of the summer.

 

 

Left: Sharing an apple with Chad the caterpillar, Right: Curious Coyote, photo credit: A. Sweeney

 

 

Our search for Smooth Goosefoot (Chenopodium subglabrum) surveys brought us into the Great Sandhills area. Saskatchewan’s diversity never ceases to amaze me. Unfortunately, we didn’t find Smooth Goosefoot during this trip, but we did come across plenty of occurrences of the provincially rare plant, Small Lupine (Lupinus pusillus) and a few Ferruginous hawks along the way.

Our last trip of the summer brought us to the Southeastern part of the province to Estevan to search for Buffalograss (Bouteloua dactyloides). This trip was special for a few reasons. First, it ended the same way it started; together with the bird crew and RPR search crew. Second, despite not being able to find any Buffalograss, we did have quite a few species at-risk sightings. We heard the call of a Sprague’s Pipit, saw two American Badgers (Taxidea taxus), many Northern leopard frogs (Lithobates pipiens), and even a few majestic and endangered Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus). One of the more memorable sightings for me would have to be one beautiful Monarch in particular that had chosen to land on my knee just long enough for a picture!

 

 

Alora and a Monarch butterfly. Photo credit: B. McMaster

 

 

We wrapped up the summer by heading back to the Great Sandhills area where Nature Saskatchewan partnered with Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and Birds Canada to put on a presentation of the ecology of the Great Sandhills followed by a wonderful, private tour of a local rancher’s breath-taking land.

From sharing lunch with caterpillars, to a face-to-face encounter with a coyote and everything in between, this experience has given me the opportunity to get up close and personal to some beautiful flora and fauna. I am so thankful for the partnerships and connections made over this summer; it is an experience I will take with me in every facet of my life.

 

 

Private Great Sandhills tour with the land owner, Nature SK, NCC and Birds Canada. Photo credit: A. Sweeney

 

 

Aug
17
Let’s Celebrate Monarchs Together on August 20th!

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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 20th, now is the perfect time to sharpen your Monarch identification skills and capture some photos and observations to share in the celebration!

Monarchs are a species at risk throughout their range with Saskatchewan being at the northern extent of their range. Nature Saskatchewan’s Stewards of Saskatchewan Coordinator, Rachel Ward, 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.

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 Ward. “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 filaments on both ends. Ward adds “you will see these caterpillars nearly exclusively on milkweed plants”.

The most important factor for these butterflies is the availability of milkweed as it is the food source that they solely rely on during their larval stage, this means that it is critical for the areas that these caterpillars emerge in to have a supply of milkweed readily available. Once they are fully developed butterflies however, they will feed on a variety of blossoming flowers, so planting a native seed flower garden helps them greatly. If you were looking to help these beautiful butterflies out, planting milkweed is the best way to do it!

 

Rachel Ward,  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: Brynne McMaster

 

 

Aug
16
The summer is almost over for the Rare Plant Rescue Search Crew

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For the rare plant search crew the summer is already almost over, seemingly as fast as it had begun. Our latest outing had us in the Frenchman River Valley on the trail of Tiny Cryptantha (Cryptantha minima), a small, hairy feature on the steep and crumbling hills that in the heat would likely be no more than a grey, heat-desiccated husk only identifiable by its miniscule nutlets. As you can imagine this had us hunkering down whenever we found a dry hairy plant and intensely trying to remove its nutlets for inspection without them being taken away by the wind. In the end we did find some relatives of Tiny Cryptantha and some other rare plants, but ultimately the remarkable beauty of the Frenchman River Valley was the most rewarding.

 

 

Photo: J. Patterson

 

Being so arid, cloudless and hot, it was hard for me to picture the insane storm of the mid-nineties that was described to us by a local landowner. Imagery of dark enveloping clouds, rain in sheets and a tornado that could twist steel pipes into a curly fry-looking objects. Part of me feels jealous of the stories, to see such a tremendous storm. However, the more reasonable part of me feels lucky we didn’t run into that kind of weather. In fact, even modest head-on winds were enough to whip a barrage of airborne grasshoppers at my face and that proved to be enough to frustrate me. Even if it was kind of funny as they bounced off my torso, sunglasses and teeth at high speed acceleration.

 

Up and down the hills we went, my feet bursting out in the first blisters I’ve gotten this summer, lucky that it took me this long. Every step was drawing us closer to the end of our plant searching journey in a bitter-sweet, ‘oh how time goes by so fast when you’re hiking around looking for plants’ kind of way. Some moments I greatly appreciated were hearing the eagles shriek above. What is a beautiful and unique sound to us must be the most terrifying imaginable to a gopher or vole. I also enjoyed coming across a full-body rattlesnake shed. An extra-long skin sleeping bag that looks like it must’ve felt so good to have emerged from, all intact in one piece. It made me wonder how good it would feel to come slipping out of all my dead skin at once. Lastly, I enjoyed encountering a real-life minotaur when leaving the valley at night. Illuminated in the darkness was a set of glowing eyes, and as our headlights drew closer the giant frame of a long horned bull emerged, imposing and mysterious in the pitch black. Turns out that coming from the city I may have an irrational fear of cattle that was only revealed to me when this giant bull surprised us on our nocturnal drive home.

 

South Saskatchewan is filled with so many gorgeous vistas, special plants, interesting creatures, and memorable moments that has made being a part of the rare plant search crew a real pleasure.

 

 

Jesse with transect pole. Photo: T. Dubbin-McCrea

 

Aug
8
The Ecological Buffalo: On the Trail of a Keystone Species

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Nature Saskatchewan is proud to have financially supported this amazing publication. Based on Wes Olson's thirty-five years of working intimately with bison & featuring Johane Janelles's stunning photography, The Ecological Buffalo is a story that takes the reader on a journey to understand the myriad connections this keystone species has with the Great Plains.
 

The mere mention of the buffalo instantly brings to mind the vast herds that once roamed the North American continent, and few wild animals captivate our imaginations as much as the buffalo do. Once numbering in the tens of millions, these magnificent creatures played a significant role in structuring the varied ecosystems they occupied. With the arrival of Europeans and their rapacious capacity for wildlife destruction, the buffalo was all but exterminated. And with them went all the intricate food webs, the trophic cascades, and the interspecies relationships that had evolved over thousands of years.
 
Despite this brush with extinction, the buffalo survived, and isolated populations are slowly recovering. As this recovery proceeds, the relationships the animals once had with thousands of species are being re-established in a remarkable process of ecological healing. The intricacy of those restored relationships is the subject of this book.
 
The Ecological Buffalo: On the Trail of a Keystone Species is now available through the Nature Saskatchewan online store or by contacting the Nature Saskatchewan office at info@naturesask.ca (1-800-667-4668).
 
 

$39.95
ISBN 9780889778719
10.875” × 10”, 180 full colour photographs, 60 illustrations
 

 

 
Aug
5
The search for Smooth Goosefoot

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Our search for Smooth Goosefoot took us to the Great Sandhills. As we hiked among summer blooms of Small Lupine, Wild Roses, and Prickly Pear Cactus, we continued to encounter wildlife of every kind. Our survey took us through some of the most interesting terrain yet:  rolling green hills carpeted with flowers of every colour. Towering old poplars hinting at homesteads that were built there long ago, now fully reclaimed by the land. Soaring hawks circling overhead and a nearly endless variety of songbirds singing dusk till dawn. A grass spider hiding in the ground, and a porcupine hiding in a tree. The landscape was vibrant and alive, it felt like we had found an interesting new species every day. 

 

Photo credits: T. Dubbin-McCrea. Left: Smooth Goosefoot, right: Small Lupine

We met some wonderful landowners, who were as welcoming as they were knowledgeable. They care deeply for the land, the natural habitats, and the animals that live there. Their perspectives on the challenges faced in these areas stretch back generations.

They spoke to us about the fragility of these wild spaces and their concerns about wildfires, drought, and declining insect populations. Their knowledge of the local wildlife, informed by a lifetime of sharing the same land, was fascinating. We had no shortage of questions and they had no shortage of answers.

This trip will stand out for a number of reasons: the haunting stares of the great horned owls lining the highway as we drove home from the field at sunset, the stunning group of horses that visited us while we searched their quarter section. The hail and wind that had us running for cover. All memorable highlights from a trip that has thoroughly impressed me, but there is one encounter that stands out above all, and will remain a cherished memory for life.

 

Photo credit: T. Dubbin-McCrea. Top: porcupine, bottom left: grass spider, bottom right: local horses saying hello.

Near the end of this trip, as we drove back from the field after an especially hot day of searching, we noticed a hawk caught on the top barbed wire of a fence near the road. Not knowing if the poor bird was alive, we pulled over and stepped out to get a better look. As we approached we saw the piercing grey eyes of a fledgling hawk tracking us. It was very much alive, but had seemingly wrapped its left wing around the wire. After grabbing a makeshift perch to gently support the youngster’s weight, we managed to very carefully (and very slowly) remove them from the barbed wire. The young hawk practically cooperated. It also looked very warm, and a little bit dazed. It had been nearly 40 degrees that day, and who knows how long it had been there. We took the last little bit of our drinking water and made it available to the hawk where it sat. It was receptive and swallowed a few sips, apparently becoming more alert and energetic. It was after hours and on the weekend, but we took some pictures and checked with the head of our program, an avid birder. She immediately dropped what she was doing and called us: it was a Ferruginous Hawk. Buteo regalis, federally listed as threatened, one of our target species-at-risk.

Upon trying to call Wildlife Rehabilitation, as well as the Conservation Officer, we learned that a pickup was not possible anytime soon. Luckily for us the nearby landowners, who we were scheduled to visit, pulled together and supplied a hawk sized cardboard box, an ideal branch for perching, and one of their own shirts as a temporary safe space for the hawk. They really cared about the wildlife out here.

Bird box in hand, we made our way back to the fledgling Ferruginous Hawk. By then it had moved off the ground and back up onto a wooden post. Keeping a respectful distance I circled around to try to get a good look, I was certain it was the same one and it was looking even better. Good enough now to take flight once more and move out across the field. 

I cannot picture a more perfect finale for our trip.

 

Photo credit: T. Dubbin-McCrea. Fledgling Ferruginous Hawk

 

Aug
4
Their Bags are Packed, Young Burrowing Owls are Moving Out!

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Regina, SK – August 3rd, 2022 - The time has come for young Burrowing Owls to jump into the real world. Early August marks the beginning of a new life stage for juvenile Burrowing Owls as they say goodbye to mom and dad’s grocery shopping and home cooking, and begin leaving the nest to forage for themselves. During this transition period, the young owls are practicing their hunting and flying skills and continually gaining more independence. While this time of year is great for spotting Burrowing Owls, it is a dangerous season for the ever-learning young Burrowing Owls. Roadside foraging is a common activity for the young owls, introducing the danger of vehicles. “At dusk the road surface tends to be warmer than surrounding grasslands, attracting many small insects and rodents,” explains Kaytlyn Burrows, coordinator of Operation Burrowing Owl, “As a result young owls are also attracted to the road and ditch when they begin searching for prey.” 

Each year, young foraging Burrowing Owls are injured or killed by vehicles along roadsides. The steady decline of the Burrowing Owl population has made the survival of each and every juvenile owl critical for the persistence and growth of the population. Luckily, those of us driving in rural Saskatchewan can play our individual parts in conserving the Burrowing Owl species. Kaytlyn Burrows suggests that “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”. Slowing down will also increase your chances of spotting this endangered bird!

Burrowing Owls tend to be found nesting in well-grazed native or tame prairie. Their nest itself is recycled from a burrow dug by burrowing mammals such as badgers or ground squirrels (gophers). The surrounding short vegetation allows for long sight lines from the burrow so that they can easily spot nearby predators. If you are lucky enough to spot a Burrowing Owl, you might see it standing at its burrow entrance, on a fence post, or foraging in a ditch. 

Burrowing Owls are quite small! They stand only 9 inches tall with featherless legs, they can be compared to a pop can on stilts. Additionally, they’ve got bushy white ‘eyebrows’, and their feathers are a mottled brown and white. 

Nature Saskatchewan has been involved with the protection and conservation of the Burrowing Owl for 35 years, relying on the help of landowners, land managers, and the public. Operation Burrowing Owl partners with stewards across southern and central Saskatchewan, and uses voluntary agreements in an effort to conserve the rapidly disappearing habitat required by the owls, as well as to monitor the Saskatchewan population. The program works alongside steward practices, and the land continues to be used in a way that benefits the steward. “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

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

 

 

Photo credit: Tammy Thomas

 

 

 

Jul
28
Burrowing Owls, Sunsets and Dinosaurs?

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Howdy, we are back from our 10 day grid road search of south western Saskatchewan and are ready to write about what we’ve been up to! It was an awesome trip where we were able to meet with plenty of friendly landowners who were eager to talk to us about conservation and to help keep an eye out for many of the birds (and other species) that we like to keep an eye out for..

Our first full day surveying in southern Saskatchewan started off with a bang. After moseying our way past crops for the first half of the morning, we finally found ourselves sandwiched between two nice sections of native prairie. We immediately began spotting tons of interesting birds and wildlife. The hawks were abundant, and just as we were about to pull away after identifying one as a Ferruginous Hawk (yay!), a bird on a fence post caught my attention in one of the car mirrors. Not believing what our eyes were seeing, we slowly reversed, and to our delight confirmed that we were looking at a Burrowing Owl! We quickly realized that there was a second owl further back in the field and crept along the road to get a better look. As we moved forward, we began to see behind a small hill close to the road and four little heads came into view: Burrowing Owl chicks! We stopped long enough to snap a slightly blurry picture, then went on our way to leave the little owl family alone. It was the best possible way to start off our 10 days on the road!

 

Photo credits: C. Tufts and B. McMaster. Top: Burrowing Owl family, bottom left: Burrowing Owl on post, bottom right: watchful Sharp-tailed Grouse

 

On the second day of the trip we experienced a good ol’ prairie thunderstorm which was pretty impressive to watch. Luckily the hail was kept to a minimum. The colour of the sky afterwards was also incredibly picturesque. At our campsite at Eastend a noisy pair of Merlins were keeping a watchful eye on many of the visitors to the sites. Nighthawks were also flying overhead, doing their best to keep our campsite as mosquito free as possible. Eastend is also home to the T-rex Museum and, while I’m not much one for puns, the one on the town’s sign for the museum was good enough that I had to get a picture.

 

 

Photo credits: C. Tufts and B. McMaster. left: A very punny sign for the T-Rex centre in Eastend, SK, right: Prickly pear flower

 

Our days were kept pretty full, with plenty of birds and other animals to keep an eye out for on our drives, especially gophers. The amount of gophers that we saw running across every road we drove on made it clear that we could use all the help we can get from birds of prey like the Ferruginous hawk. We talked to many landowners who said that once they had some hawks move in, the gophers would move out!  On one corner, we were stopped in our tracks as we came upon some sort of meeting with five Godwits in a field. We quickly snapped a picture and let them continue on, although they didn’t seem to be bothered by our intrusion too much. On our way back into town one day we were escorted out of the area by a vigilant Sharp-tailed Grouse. It was perched on some barbed wire and clucking at us, keeping a watchful eye while we drove away.  

After our Burrowing Owl encounter on our first day of surveying I didn’t think our luck could get any better, but lo and behold, on the morning of our last full day on the road we stumbled across yet another Burrowing Owl. This time we got a great view of the sun-bleached male standing on a fence post, and a good look at the darker female back at the burrow. While we didn’t see any chicks this time we couldn’t complain, the Burrowing Owl sightings were the perfect bookends to our long adventure out on the roads!

Through our time spent around rural southwest Saskatchewan, it really drove home the importance of conserving the few islands of native prairie that remain throughout the province. The areas we drove past that were being well taken care of by the landowners were absolutely teeming with a wide diversity of life and it was an important reminder of how critical these areas are.

Until next time!

Cory & Brynne

 

Photo credit: C. Tufts

 

 

Jul
8
The search for Dwarf Woolly-heads continues...

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I have never in my life heard an antelope call to me. Maybe I was daydreaming or hearing sounds that weren’t there, but on the adjacent hillside stood an antelope that every few moments would make a sound directed towards me. It was something like a human grunt mixed with a cough and altogether very strange.

That being said, this trip searching for more Dwarf Woolly-heads offered up a lot of time to be quiet and focussed. Walking for hours on end staring at the ground. Maybe it was this slow-paced, silent determination that made the antelope comfortable enough to come close and ask how we were doing in its own grunty way.

Our slow paced meditative determination was interrupted frequently however. We had an entourage of cows that felt it was necessary to call hello every couple of minutes to make their presence known. I’m not complaining, our group of cow friends quickly became a highlight for me. Returning to the car at the end of the day to see them gathered around the strange machine, itself covered in lick marks. Even if we had to gently persuade a couple cows away from our brightly coloured flags, however intriguing they may have been.

In case you’re not thrilled about cow musings and want to hear the results, I have you covered. Dwarf Woolly-heads have been found this trip! 17 plants and hopefully a lot more out there remaining unseen. Perhaps not too impressive a total as nearly 10 plants could fit in a hand span, but you can’t demand too much from extremely rare plants.

 As for my partner and I, it’s time to pack up again and hit the road to different pastures and different plants. I thank Dwarf Woolly-heads for training my eyes to thoroughly investigate the ground and I truly do wish it the best as I leave the ephemeral wetlands behind. Goodbye curious cows and that one coughing/shouting antelope. Thanks to Southwest Saskatchewan for it’s quiet contemplation and whimsy.

 

Photo credits: T. Dubbin-McCrea. Top: Black Widow spider, bottom left: Jesse and his new friends, bottom right: Dwarf Woolly-head measurement.

 

 

Jul
5
Busy times for the Butcherbird!

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Regina, SK – July 5, 2022 –What is that raucous calling in the bushes? It may be a nest full of hungry Loggerhead Shrikes (a.k.a Butcherbirds)! While most chicks can be quite noisy at feeding time, these birds named for their shrieking call can take it to another level.

These migratory songbirds are a threatened species and Saskatchewan is an important part of their breeding range. They return to the Canadian prairies each spring from their wintering grounds in southern Texas and Mexico; and right now, their chicks are hatching and starting to leave the nest!

“Now is the best time to see Loggerhead Shrikes because the adults are constantly on the hunt to feed their ravenous chicks, and the chicks are getting brave to hop out of the nest to surrounding branches”, explains Rachel Ward, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator with Nature Saskatchewan. “They can frequently be seen sitting on a dead branch up high in a shrub as they are a sit-and-wait predator and will perch on a high vantage point before swooping down to grab prey”.

Loggerhead Shrikes are predatory songbirds and provide excellent natural pest control. In addition to their main diet of insects, they will also eat mice, voles, frogs and even snakes. These tenacious birds will even attack and carry prey up to 129% of their own body weight! Unlike other birds of prey, shrikes do not possess the strong feet and talons necessary to hold their prey down and tear off pieces. To get around this, shrikes impale their prey on thorns or barbed-wire, and then use their hooked beak to tear off edible bits. “This adaptation of hanging up their prey is how they got the nickname Butcherbird,” says Rachel.

Loggerhead Shrikes are slightly smaller than a robin, with a white breast and belly, a grey back, and contrasting white markings on their black wings and tail. They also have a distinctive bold black eye “mask” and a black hooked beak. Loggerhead shrikes have a song composed of short bubbling trills, as well as a variety of rasps and clacks. However, the call they are best known for is the distinctive high pitched shriek they give when alarmed.

Nature Saskatchewan delivers a voluntary stewardship program called Shrubs for Shrikes that works with rural landowners to conserve this species at risk. They are asking anyone who sees a Loggerhead Shrike, or impaled prey, to call their toll free line at 1-800-667-4668 to help them monitor the population. “Personal information is never shared without permission”, adds Rachel.
 

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For further information, please contact Nature Saskatchewan:

Rachel Ward, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator
(306) 780-9832
outreach@naturesask.ca

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

 

 

Photo credit: Boyd Coburn