Archives for 2018

Voices from the Field May 11

Hello blog readers! We are excited to be back for another season of ‘Voices from the Field’!

After a long winter of writing grant applications and reports and attending a few workshops and a conference, we were feening to get out!  So when an opportunity came up to help with Ferruginous Hawk (FEHA) nest surveys across southern Saskatchewan, we happily accepted!

The day finally came and we headed out to survey for FEHA nests! The first survey was on a beautiful mostly clear-sky, calm, early evening, and… YES! Within a couple minutes, we saw our first FEHA nest! Even more special, the nest was on the edge of a Great Blue Heron rookery! Nine majestic Great Blue Herons were calmly perched watching the sunset. We could not help but stop a moment and take it in along with them.



Great Blue Heron Rookery. Photo credit: Rebecca Magnus



After searching until dusk, at the end of our route, we were treated to our first porcupine sighting! This may not seem as exciting to some, but it was our first time observing a live porcupine in the wild. It looked so laid-back and fluffy, slowly waddling along (apparently, this is their full speed)…. so adorable to watch.

After an amazing start, we were welcomed to our home away from home, a two-bedroom suite above the Manley Bakery in Consul. How perfect! Every morning we were greeted by the owner, Vicki, and her staff for a fresh breakfast, and every evening we were served a delicious home cooked meal and enjoyed great conversation with Vicki and her husband Dave. We indulged (a lot!) in fresh donuts, muffins, and stuffed buns, and by the end of the week, we were ready for hibernation.

The week took us through many beautiful landscapes with pristine prairie grasslands and rolling hills. As we were looking for FEHA nests, we saw many other species that often challenged our ID skills, and even though the trees had not leafed-out yet, the large nests provided great hiding spots. When we spotted a nest, the most likely of species it could be was a FEHA, a Red-tailed Hawk, a Swainson’s Hawk, a Great Horned Owl or a Canada Goose. To try and figure out what species was sitting in the nest, there are a few key features we would look for. Great Horned Owls and Canada Geese have a distinct grey color to that the other three hawks do not have. Once we eliminated that it was not a Great Horned Owl or a Canada Goose, which on occasion it was, we would move on to what species of hawk are we seeing. Because they are sitting in nest, and often quite low in the nest, the best features to focus on are the beak length, colour of cere (fleshy patch above the beak), chin coloration and length of mouth. FEHA’s have a large beak, a bright yellow cere, and a long mouth or gape that extends from the beak past the eye. They also have a bright white chin, throat, and chest. Swainson’s Hawk have a white patch above their beak and a white throat that turns into a brown ‘bib’ on their chest. Red-tailed Hawks have a grey-blue beak with a very small yellow cere and a brown hooded head. Just to add complexity, all of these hawk species have a dark morph! It can sometimes take a half an hour or more to determine what species was in the nest!



An adult dark morph FEHA sitting in their large nest. Photo credit: Kaytlyn Burrows



Some other exciting observations were Chestnut-collared Longspurs preforming their mating display, Sprague’s Pipit singing high in the sky (they are nearly impossible to see), and a pair of Burrowing Owls, just to name a few!  We also saw many different waterfowl species such as Northern Pintails, Canvasbacks, Redheads, Northern Shovelers, and of course Mallards.



A Burrowing Owl pair standing next to a burrow. Photo credit: Kaytlyn Burrows



Lastly, all along our trails looking for FEHA nests, we were on a mission we called Pronghorn Zing! Every time we would see one or more Pronghorn we would open our PronghornXing (Prong-Horn-Cross-ing) app and enter our sighting. The app is very user friendly and so easy to use! We encourage everyone to download this app and contribute your Pronghorn sightings!


After we completed our surveys and feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, it was time to travel home and rest up for our next exciting adventure.



Beautiful rolling hills in Southern Saskatchewan. Photo credit: Rebecca Magnus


Until next time, happy trails to you all!

Rebecca and Kaytlyn

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