Archives for 2019

Jan
22
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
306-373-1228
Retired Wildlife Biologist  

or

Lorne Scott
306-695-2047
Conservation Director, Nature Saskatchewan

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

Photo credit: Val Mann

 

 

 

Jan
24
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

 

 

Feb
13
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 www.birdscanada.org


For further information, please contact:
Lacey Weekes, Conservation and Education Manager, Nature Saskatchewan lweekes@naturesask.ca 306-780-9481

Feb
20
Birds of Saskatchewan

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Birds of Saskatchewan is now available for pre-order of the second print run. You can purchase your copy by phoning 306-780-9273 or 1-800-667-4668, via email at info@naturesask.ca or by visiting our online store.

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

 

 

Mar
6
Lend your voice

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Below you will find a letter to Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change calling for an environmental assessment of agricultural drainage in Saskatchewan and the province's Agricultural Water Management Strategy.
This letter contains an appendix highlighting the scientific facts of why this drainage is so bad for us, future generations, Indigenous peoples, our neighbors and the environment.
 
We encourage you to take the time to read the document and also ask that you  show your support by signing the Federal E-Petition at 
 
If you have any questions or concerns on this important environmental issue or would like additional information please contact:
 
Jeff Olson
Executive Director
Citizens Environmental Alliance
cea.sask.2018@gmail.com
 

 

Mar
14
Birds In Real Danger, Saskatoon (B.I.R.D.S.)

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Reprinted from the Saskatoon Nature Society Newsletter March 2019:

BIRDS grew out of a communal desire to protect our feathered friends, and became
a partnership between the Saskatoon Nature Society, Wild Birds Unlimited,
Saskatchewan Light Pollution Abatement Committee, and Living Sky Wildlife
Rehabilitation.


We are all passionate about birds and recognize the threats to birds from flying into
glass structures. Over 699 million birds are killed by glass in North America each
year according to the FLAP Canada.


BIRDS has been actively advocating for bird safety since its inception last year. We
have a 6 foot banner that attracts attention at community events and encourages
conversation and awareness of the problem and possible solutions. It is on display
at Beaver Creek when not otherwise in use.


Jan Shadick gave a well-attended presentation about bird collisions at Gardenscape
last year. She will give another presentation this year. All partners have attended
City meetings and advocated for implementation of bird-friendly building
guidelines.


Progress has been positive! The City of Saskatoon, the University, and MVA have
taken steps to implement some of the ideas and suggestions from the Director of
FLAP (Michael Mesure).


1. The University has added “Dots” to windows on new overhead walkways to
reduce bird collisions.
2. MVA has placed “dots” on their windows at Beaver Creek, and has plans to place
them on their downtown office building. They have also included a more rigorous
assessment of buildings for bird-friendly design during their review process.
3. The City of Saskatoon has begun to develop Bird-Friendly Building Guidelines in
accordance with recommendations from FLAP. After consulting with LSWR, FLAP
and other partners, they are publishing a Healthy Yards pamphlet with tips for
homeowners to help protect birds from collisions with glass. It will be ready for
visitors to Gardenscape and will later be distributed as an electric bill insert
throughout the city.


Never in our wildest dreams did we believe that we could make such a significant
difference in community attitudes within such a short time span.

Mar
25
Something for Everyone: Nature Event at Saltcoats

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By Kathy Morrell

Join the Yellowhead Flyway Birding Trail Association (YFBTA) on April 13, 2019 at the Saltcoats Community Hall for the 2019 Nature Event.

Details and information:

12:30 Doors open

1:00   Presentations

                Dr. L. Robbin Lindsay: Ticks, Talk and Related Diseases

                Kristen Gabora: The Great Trail

                Joan Feather: Birds of Saskatchewan, publication of Nature Saskatchewan

                Ryan Fisher: To be announced

 

 Banquet to follow

 

Additional: sharing of nature photos, raffle draw, nature/bird book exchange

 

For registration, please go to the YFBTA website www.yfbta.com

 


Everything about ticks

“Ticks are my life.” said Dr. L. Robbin Lindsay, presenter at the upcoming YFBTA event at the Saltcoats Hall.

Lindsay is a research scientist at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Brandon. He studies different kinds of ticks and how their populations have changed over time.

“The deer (black-legged) tick is present now in places never seen before,” he continued. This tick, the one that causes Lyme Disease, has increased its range over the past decades.

Despite that, the risk of Lyme disease in Saskatchewan is low. According to a recent article published in the Leader-Post, the province has collected 25,000 ticks since 2009. Only 65 were deer ticks and of that number only eight tested positive for the bacteria that cause Lyme Disease.

The other types of tick found in the province include the dog tick, the Rocky Mountain wood tick and the winter tick. They are more a nuisance than a public health issue.

“Still,” Lindsay added, “it is wise to know how to dress for tick season and how to remove a tick if it becomes embedded. It’s all about prevention and control.”

 

Everything about The Great Trail    

The Great Trail is a network connecting more than 15,000 communities across Canada. According to its website, it “is the longest recreational trail in the world…It offers a variety of landscapes – urban, rural and wilderness, along greenways, waterways and roadways.”

Volunteers came up with the idea of a trail that would stretch across the country nearly twenty-five years ago. It was completed coast-to-coast in 2017.

“My hope is that people get out and experience what The Great Trail has to offer,” said Kristen Gabora, Trail Development Manager for Central Canada for the Trans Canada Trail (TCT).

In recent years, there has been a change in names. TransCanada Trail is the national organization that works with local groups, provincial parks, First Nations and municipalities, the actual owners and operators of their particular sections of the trail. TCT does not own the land on which the trail is located. Rather, its role is to promote the use of The Great Trail and offer grants for maintenance, signage and trail enhancement.

“One of our most recent projects was the completion of the boardwalk at the Ravine Ecological Preserve in Yorkton,” Gabora explained. “It is a unique structure that can withstand the weather and flooding.”

The venture was a partnership with the City of Yorkton. TCT granted $35,000 to the project while the City agreed to contribute an additional amount to a maximum of $65,000.

“The Great Trail gives residents and tourists the opportunity to be physically active in the outdoors,” said Randy Goulden, Executive-Director of Tourism Yorkton. In addition to the trail, visitors can tour the site of the homestead of the Dulmage family, early settlers in the Yorkton area.”

At the Spring Event, Kristen Gabora will tell the story of The Great Trail, not everything as the title might suggest. After all, the trail is 24,000 kilometers long. Her presentation will provide information about the trail in general and nearby sections in particular.

 

Everything about Saskatchewan Birds

Birds of Saskatchewan tells you nearly everything you ever wanted to know about the birds of the province. This book describes the 437 bird species ever found here, advocates for stewardship of the environment and provides a benchmark against which these species can be assessed in the future. It is a collection of the best in Saskatchewan’s birding photography.

But more than that, this ten-year project illustrates the commitment of those in the birding community. A bequest to Nature Saskatchewan from Manley Callin paid for the costs of layout, professional editing and printing Everything else was the work of volunteers.

One hundred and seven volunteer writers compiled the available research and wrote the text. Birders submitted 6000 photographs. Frank Roy of Saskatoon headed up the committee who reduced that number to the more than one thousand used in the book.

Alan R. Smith, Frank Roy and Stuart Houston were volunteer editors for the project. Houston is well-known in the area as a bird bander and writer. He began his study of birds as a boy in Yorkton. He and his wife Mary have banded more than 150,000 individual birds of 211 species.

Yorkton area birders made contributions to the text. They include Bill Anaka, Rob Wilson, and Frank Switzer.

Bill Anaka, with his long-time friend Stuart Houston, compiled their birding observations and research into the well-respected Birds of Yorkton-Duck Mountain (2003). The information they collected was used as one fact source in this new publication. Though Anaka died in 2017, his work lives on in Birds of Saskatchewan.

“This volume represents decades of observation and research,” said Joan Feather who will facilitate a Q and A about the book at the YFBTA event.

After retiring from a career at the University of Saskatchewan in Community Health Research, Feather became active in the Saskatoon Nature Society and Nature Saskatchewan. She has served as president of the Saskatoon group and on the board of Nature Saskatchewan.

 

 

Apr
5
Can Pacific Albany Project Potash Mine – Open Comment Period

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Nature Saskatchewan has some concern over a proposed Potash Mine southeast of Regina and north of Sedley. We are asking our members and supporters to email short letters to environmental.assessment@gov.sk.ca by April 15, 2019 (deadline comment period).

A proposed mine site and drilling activity is planned for a large area which encompasses thousands of acres of native and tame grasslands, wetlands and riparian areas along Wascana Creek. There are large tracts of cultivated land in the area that should be used for development.  Nature Saskatchewan is not opposed to the Can Pacific Albany Project potash mine but want to protect the highly fragmented natural areas from further impact.

 

Some points to mention in your letters are:

  1. No construction and development on or near grasslands, wetlands and riparian areas along Wascana Creek.
  2. Development activities should not occur on natural landscapes but be moved to cultivated fields where the impact on the natural environment will be greatly reduced.
  3. Some 150 species of wildlife were documented during the environmental assessment.
  4. Species at Risk within the area include; Sprague's Pipit, Loggerhead Shrike, Ferruginous Hawk, Long-billed Curlew and Leopard Frog.
  5. We have already lost over 86% of our natural grassland ecosystem in southern Saskatchewan. Every effort should be made to avoid the further loss of these vanishing habitats.
  6. Be clear that you would like to ensure that no development will occur on any natural landscapes.

We encourage you to use your own words in your email to the province. You do not need to mention all of these points. It would be useful to include a sentence or two on why the grassland landscape is important to you, that would be very useful. Your letter does not need to be long and detailed. What counts is the number of responses received by the province.

 

If you have any questions, please contact;

 

Jordan Ignatiuk, Nature Saskatchewan Executive Director
306-780-9293  or jignatiuk@naturesask.ca
           

Or

 

Lorne Scott, Nature Saskatchewan Conservation Director
306-695-2047 or 306-695-7458

 

 

 

May
6
50 years of the Saskatoon Bluebird Trail

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Written by and posted with permission by: Greg Fenty, Saskatoon Nature Society

 

In 1942 Isabel Priestly founded the Blue Jay. This journal of natural history and conservation for Saskatchewan and adjacent areas continues to be published four times a year. Priestly was a strong promoter of the Junior Audubon Societies and she included a Junior Naturalists section in the Blue Jay. This gave youth the opportunity to share their interests and observations and contribute to our understanding of the natural world. One of the first conservation projects undertaken by these Junior Naturalists was the establishment of Bluebird Trails. Mountain Bluebirds were in decline due to changes in its habitat and introduced species such as the House Sparrow and Starling. One method of helping the bluebirds was to build nest boxes and place them out along a country road. The nest boxes are monitored and the population numbers are used by scientists to chart the population trends in the species.

In 1961 Jack Lane and his Brandon Junior Naturalists began the Prairie Bluebird Trail. Jack Lane’s trail extended roughly from Winnipeg to Broadview. In 1963 Lone Scott, then a grade 10 student at Indian Head, connected his trail to Lane’s. This extended the trail west to approximately Raymore. Then in 1968, 12 year-old Ray Bisha moved to Saskatoon from Brandon along with Mike and Rod Bantjes from Yorkton. The boys convinced Mary Houston and Stuart Houston (who, in 1942 was a grade 9 student and an active executive member of the fledgling Yorkton Natural History Society) to start a Junior Naturalists Society in Saskatoon. With Stuart and Mary Houston as the “adult advisors” the Saskatoon Junior Natural History Society began. Their conservation project was the Bluebird Trail. In 1969, inspired by success of Lorne Scott’s trail, the Saskatoon Junior Naturalists built 270 birdhouses and created a trail over 200 km long to connect with Scott’s trail at Raymore. Over the next few years the number of houses grew to 450 and connected with Jack Kargut’s trail west of Saskatoon. The Prairie Bluebird Trail now extended from Winnipeg almost all the way to North Battleford. Mary Houston supervised and banded the birds along the Saskatoon portion of the trail. From 1969 to 1998 Mary banded over 6500 bluebirds. By the time she “retired” from the Bluebird Trail in 2009 the number grew to 8028 bluebirds banded. (Mary also banded Tree Swallows along the trail. The Birds of the Saskatoon Area indicates that she banded well over 15,000 Tree Swallows along the trail). Replicating Mary’s energy and enthusiasm for the Bluebird Trail was not easy. It must be noted that it took four people to replace Mary (Melanie Elliott, Jan Shadick, Tim Haughian, and Greg Fenty) as the trail banders. 

The Bluebird Trail remains a major activity of the Junior Naturalists. Today, the name has changed to the Young Naturalists and they continue to participate in a variety of nature activities. Greg Fenty and Kyron Giroux have taken on the task of banding bluebirds and Tree Swallows as part of the Young Naturalists program. 

Many of the adults who have volunteered to co-ordinate the Junior Naturalists were once youth members of a nature society. They know future conservation requires the nurturing of children’s curiosity with the natural world. Special thanks to the Houston's, Bruce Donovan, Nigel Caulkett, Ron Jensen, Robin Cohen, Ross Barclay, Bob Green, Guy Wapple, and Nancy Young for their dedication to the Junior Naturalists program over the past 50 years.

 

May
9
World Migratory Bird Day At Last Mountain Bird Observatory

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Regina, SK – May 6, 2019 – The Last Mountain Bird Observatory (LMBO), located in
Last Mountain Regional Park, 15km West of Govan opens on May 6th for the spring
season. The observatory is open in the spring and fall of each year to monitor the
number and species of migrating songbirds and to offer educational opportunities to the
public. Visitors of all ages are welcome in May, August and September from 9 am to 1
pm each day to see bird species up close and observe catching, handling and banding
techniques.


Nature Saskatchewan would like to invite you to join our celebration of the return of our
migratory birds on Saturday May 11, 2019 at the LMBO. Come out and join us for a fun
filled day of bird activities! This year the theme of World Migratory Bird Day is “Protect
Birds: Be the Solution to Plastic Pollution!” and will put the spotlight on the impact of
plastic pollution on migratory birds and their habitats. The day begins at 8am in Regina
with a free bus leaving for LMBO. Participants will spend the morning rotating through
different stations including: Bird banding, where participants will get an up close
experience with the birds. Mist Netting, watching as we extract birds from the net, age
them, sex them, and band them. A Migration Obstacle Course, where participants will
experience the challenges associated with migration by having to migrate from Mexico to
Canada. Nature crafts including bird feeders and bird masks. Saskatchewan Breeding
Bird Atlas will lead bird watching walks throughout the park. Take the waste and
recycling sorting challenge with the City of Regina and see if you're a super sorter!
Explore the National Wildlife Area interpretive trailer. A free BBQ lunch will be provided
at 12:30 pm. To honor this year’s theme, we will participant in a shoreline cleanup in the
afternoon before departing on the bus at 2:30pm for Regina arriving at 4pm
Everyone is welcome to join us for our Bird Day celebration. Please RSVP for the event
by May 8th. Media is welcome to come out to the Observatory to observe the catching
and banding of birds, as well as have a tour of the facility. Please call Nature
Saskatchewan for more information.


For further information, please contact Nature Saskatchewan:
Rebecca Magnus (306) 780-9481, email rmagnus@naturesask.ca
NS Conservation and Education Manager
Nature Saskatchewan
 

May
22
Last Mountain Bird Observatory is open for the season and migration is in full swing!

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We set up our mist nets in Last Mountain Regional Park on Sunday May 5, to kick of the 28th consecutive spring. On our opening day we caught a variety of birds. The most common were Myrtle Warbler, Lincoln’s Sparrow, and White-throated Sparrow. As our week wore on, we caught an increasing diversity of birds! Some of our highlights include Palm Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Orange-crowned Warbler, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

 

Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Photo credit: Jordan Rustad

 

During our second week, we caught mostly thrushes and sparrows. We caught Swainson’s Thrush, Gray-cheeked Thrush, and Hermit Thrush. The majority of sparrows we caught were White-throated Sparrow and White-crowned Sparrow, but we also had Harris Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Clay-coloured Sparrow, and Chipping Sparrow!

 

Gray-cheeked Thrush. Photo credit: Jordan Rustad

 

We’ve also been catching a number of American Robins and Tree Swallows that are breeding in the park! We even caught a surprise Brown Creeper! We don’t see very many of these guys, and they don’t get caught in the net very often. We also saw our first Rose-breasted Grosbeak of the season. It was a gorgeous male, and a school group that were visiting us got to hear it sing.

There are also more than just songbirds moving through. We have seen many ducks and grebes show up. I personally added a lifer to my list. I’ve been trying to see White-winged Scoters for the past three years, but they only pass through infrequently and I was never at the station when they were. This year I finally conquered my nemesis bird and saw three scoters out on the lake.

To add to the excitement of opening week, the station was also host to a World Migratory Bird Day event, and we had tons of great groups visit our station and tour the mist nets (90 participants). Not only did the groups get to watch birds being banded and learn about the process, but they even got banded themselves.

 

 

Shelly Fisher, volunteer bander, releasing a banded bird on World Migratory Bird Day. Photo credit: Rebecca Magnus

 

Local Girl Guide group showing off their bands. Photo credit: Rebecca Magnus

 

Our first week has had some great highlights, and we’re looking forward to the next birds to come. May the flocks be with you!

Jordan Rustad

May
27
The Burrowing Owls are back and ready to unpack!

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Regina, SK - May 27, 2019 – After their long journey from the American Southwest and Mexico, Burrowing Owls have finally arrived at their summer home on the Prairies. With breeding season well underway, the endangered owls are now pairing up and selecting their nesting spots where they will soon be laying and incubating their eggs.

 

Finding prime real estate for their nest is critical and not always a simple task. According to Nature Saskatchewan’s Operation Burrowing Owl Coordinator, Kaytlyn Burrows, “Burrowing Owls love open areas of short grasslands with burrows for nesting.” Since they cannot dig their own burrows, Burrowing Owls must rely on those abandoned by badgers, Richardson’s ground squirrels (gophers), and other burrowing mammals. The owls also benefit from livestock grazing, which keeps the grass short enough for the owls to spot their predators.

 

These unique birds can be identified by their yellow eyes and the mottled pattern of their brown and white plumage. Their legs are also long and bare – giving them an appearance of walking on stilts. The juveniles can be recognized by their solid buff-coloured chests. Burrowing Owls are only slightly larger than a robin and have a height of about 9 inches. The owls are known as generalist predators, and as such they eat a wide variety of small animals. This may include mice, voles, snakes, and insects. “Over the course of a summer, one owl family can consume up to 1,800 rodents and 7,000 insects!” says Burrows. For this reason, Burrowing Owls act as excellent pest control.

 

Unfortunately, the population of Burrowing Owls continues to decline. There were an estimated 795 mature individuals in Canada in 2004, but the 2015 estimate suggests there are now only 270 Burrowing Owls remaining in Canada.

 

There are a number of ways to contribute to the conservation of these owls. Landowners can voluntarily participate in Operation Burrowing Owl and conserve owl habitat as well as monitor the species on their land.

 

“Without the voluntary efforts of landowners, land managers, and the general public, recovery of this unique prairie owl would not be possible,” says Burrows. She encourages the public to “get out there this summer and explore, you never know what you will find.” If you spot a Burrowing Owl, please call Nature Saskatchewan’s toll-free HOOT Line, 1-800-667-HOOT (4668) or email obo@naturesask.ca. “When you report a sighting you are playing a very important role in Burrowing Owl recovery. Every sighting is critical!” says Burrows. Information given is never shared without permission.

 

For further information, please contact Nature Saskatchewan:

 

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

 

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

 

Photo credit: Marla Anderson

 

Jun
5
Strolling the Beaches with Piping Plovers!

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Regina, SK – June 10 2019 – Our chilly spring weather is finally gone, and summer temperatures mean it’s time to head to the beach… “But watch where you walk! Families of endangered Piping Plovers are out for a stroll too! It’s a great time to see them along the shores of our favourite beaches, but it’s also a time to be watchful. By mid-June, late nesters may still be incubating or have chicks out and about, making them vulnerable to trampling”, explains Shirley Bartz, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator with Nature Saskatchewan. “Piping Plovers’ best defence is camouflage. Nests are just a shallow depression lined with small stones, eggs look like speckled rocks, and chicks resemble sandy cotton balls on tiny stick legs. Although chicks can walk and run within hours of hatching, they are not able to fly for the first couple of weeks out of the nest,” adds Shirley. “So, to give Piping Plovers the best chance possible, we are asking beachgoers and anglers to keep watch around their feet and along shores such as Lake Diefenbaker.”

Piping Plovers are a small shorebird identified by their distinct markings – a black band on their forehead and a single black band around their neck. They also have a bright white belly, grey-brown backs, orange legs, and an orange beak with a black tip. Their look-a-like cousin is the Killdeer, which is larger, browner in colour, and has two black bands around their neck instead of one. “Like the Killdeer, Piping Plovers have a broken wing display: they pretend to be injured to attract potential predators (e.g., you!), and draw them away from their nest. But, it is all an act and the bird will fly back to its chicks once it has lured you far enough away”, says Shirley.

Piping Plovers will be increasing their fat stores until early August, in order to complete the 3,500 km flight back to the winter beaches along the Gulf of Mexico. “Since Saskatchewan has the highest numbers of breeding Piping Plovers in Canada, we feel a great responsibility to give these endangered shorebirds the best chance possible for breeding success before their long journey south,” says Shirley.

 

 

Nature Saskatchewan works with landowners and the public to monitor and conserve suitable shorelines. If you see a Piping Plover please call our toll-free Hoot Line at: 1-800-667-HOOT (4668) or email outreach@naturesask.ca.

 

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For further information please contact Nature Saskatchewan:

           

Shirley Bartz (306) 780-9832, email outreach@naturesask.ca
Habitat Stewardship Coordinator           

 

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

         

Photo credit: David Krughoff

Jun
18
The Butcherbird is back!

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Regina, SK – June 17, 2019 – Have you seen a black and white bird about the size of a
robin, with a black mask and a hooked bill? If so, then you have spotted a Loggerhead Shrike (a.k.a. the Butcherbird)! They are perching on fence posts, utility wires and prominent branches in shelterbelts and shrub patches, hunting for prey to feed their newly hatched babies. Loggerhead Shrikes are migratory songbirds that return to the prairies in the spring from their wintering grounds in southern Texas and Mexico to raise a family.

In order to feed their hungry chicks, shrikes hunt for insects like grasshoppers and caterpillars as well as small rodents, such as mice and voles. Their practice of hunting prey often considered agricultural pests by landowners makes the shrike a great form of natural pest control. “The Loggerhead Shrike earned its reputation as a Butcherbird from its habit of impaling its prey on the barbs of fences and thorny shrubs, like butchers hanging a side of beef”, explains Shirley Bartz, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator for Nature Saskatchewan. “Impaling their prey compensates for the shrike’s lack of talons (claws), which would allow them to hold their prey while tearing off edible bits, as do other birds of prey, such as falcons and hawks”.

The Loggerhead Shrike is most readily recognized by its black eye “mask” and distinctive high- pitched shriek given as an alarm call. It is slightly smaller than a robin and sports a black hooked beak, gray back, white belly, and black wings. White patches on the wings and tail make the Loggerhead Shrike easy to identify when flying. Loggerhead Shrikes can be found nesting in thorny shrubs such as hawthorn or buffaloberry, shelterbelts, occupied or abandoned farmsteads, golf courses and cemeteries.

Loggerhead Shrikes are listed as “Threatened” in the federal Species At Risk Act, and are
recognized as very rare in Saskatchewan. Nature Saskatchewan is asking anyone who sees a Loggerhead Shrike, or insects, rodents, frogs or snakes that are impaled on thorny shrubs or barbed wire fence, to please call our toll-free number at 1-800-667-4668. By reporting a sighting to Nature Saskatchewan’s Shrubs for Shrikes program, you are helping to monitor the shrike population, and providing valuable information for the conservation of this unique songbird. Any information provided is not shared without permission.

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For further information, please contact Nature Saskatchewan:
Shirley Bartz (306) 780-9832, email outreach@naturesask.ca
Habitat Stewardship Coordinator

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

 

Photo credit: Randy McCulloch

Photo credit: Emily Putz


 

 

Jun
27
Hello from the Rare Plant Rescue field crew!

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Hello from the Rare Plant Rescue field crew! We have been out in the field for nearly a month, and are bursting with stories to share.

After such a long, cold winter, we couldn’t wait to jump in with both feet and hit the road towards the Southwest, in search of our first target plant of the season. Slender Mouse-eared Cress is classified as threatened, and finds its home in stabilized sand dunes. This unique terrain is characterized by creeping juniper (ground cedar) covering the sandy hills, with sagebrush growing in the well-drained areas and willows growing around the spring wetlands. All around us, yellow and purple flowers dotted the ground – yellow meadow violets, golden bean, locoweeds, saline shooting stars, and purple pea flowers. On day two of our search we thought we hit a stroke of good luck – a slighting of Slender mouse-eared cress! We cheered into the wind, but alas, our celebration was short lived. Further search proved that this was just a very deceiving lookalike. We continued to be plagued by lookalikes for the rest of the week, but the visits with our dedicated land stewards kept our spirits up. At the end of our trip, the manager from our motel in Burstall pointed out a good luck sign to us. Since then, many things have crossed our path that we’ve attributed to this good luck omen.

On our next trip, we welcomed the change of scenery as we drove towards the banks of the South Saskatchewan river. With the arrival of June comes a time of higher visibility for the endangered Small-flowered Sand-verbena, so we searched high and low on loose sandy slopes for their white flower clusters and large orange seeds. Once again we were thwarted by lookalikes galore! We did, however, spot a different rare plant; Small Lupine, classified as uncommon in Saskatchewan. These blue-flowered, silvery-haired pea plants are often found in areas where other rare plants grow, making them exciting to come across as we search.

The river proved to be full of entertainment; our days were filled with sights of birds of prey soaring the skies, washed up bone discoveries, and playful river critters frolicking through the water currents. It’s hard to decide what was more comical – when we startled a beaver at the top of an eroded bank and it ran, tripped, fell, plopped, and rolled into the water to get away from us; or the unceasing efforts of killdeer parents to lure us away from their tiny scampering chicks by throwing themselves on the ground in front of us and performing their dramatic ‘broken wing’ act. We also had many moments of surprise and wonder – nearly stepping on a young rattlesnake that was stretched out on our path, spying on a Ferruginous Hawk (threatened and a target species of our Stewards of Saskatchewan Banner program) and watching it hover-hunt and dive from an impossibly high distance to catch a meal.

 

Photo credit: Levi Boutin

 

Everywhere we have been, the ground looks parched from the drought. As hard as these times are to get through, it is a reminder that our native plants are well-equipped with adaptations for these conditions. We kept admiring sunny cactus flowers, bright pink rose blossoms and the cheery patches of scarlet mallow along the ground.

Along the way, we’ve gotten to stay in some of the most welcoming and interesting towns and campgrounds. Almost every night, Common Nighthawks (threatened and another target species of our Stewards of Saskatchewan Banner program) sang us to sleep with their short nasally calls as they soared overheads catching bugs. So far though, our favourite wildlife encounter has been our surprising neighbour - a long-eared owlet trying out its wings and hopping from tree branch to tree branch right next to our campsite. Once he caught site of us, he stuck around and watched us cook supper for 3 nights and posed for countless photos.

 

Photo credit: Levi Boutin

 

We are happy to head home for a few days to rest our sore feet and let some sunburns fade, but we can’t wait to get back out. There is so much diversity in our corner of the world, and we can’t wait to take it all in.

 

By: Levi Boutin

 

Photo credit: Natanis Kuster

 

Jul
2
Check in with the Stewards of SK Field Staff

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Hi there! Your Habitat Stewardship Assistant Josh checking in! My coworker Grace and I have been busy these past two months talking with landowners about our habitat stewardship programs and have just returned from our third trip travelling across southern Saskatchewan. We have racked up some exciting memories that we want to share!

In mid-June we began our summer with Shirley and Kaytlyn (Habitat Stewardship coordinators) and were anxious to get out on the road. It didn’t take us long to find one of the species at risk under our stewardship programs; the burrowing owl! It was almost too good to be true to see a pair of burrowing owls on only our second day in the field! Fun Fact: Male burrowing owls are much lighter in colour than females because the sun bleaches their feathers while the females remain in the burrow with the eggs. The male kept a close watch as he hunted for insects; a few minutes later the female joined in on the fun! It was breathtaking!

 

A male burrowing owl hunting for his partner and protecting their burrow and eggs. Photo credit Josh Christiansen

 

Throughout all three of our trips, Grace and I have had to get accustomed to navigating the backcountry of Saskatchewan. I once directed Grace down an extremely wild dirt road that twisted through a small valley. In the end, we arrived nowhere near our destination but we were rewarded by sighting two loggerhead shrikes, a pair of bobolinks, and a western meadowlark that put on an absolute show as it screamed its elegant song. Saskatchewan’s dirt roads continuously provide us with amazing experiences. We get excited with every old building, deer, and pronghorn we see! However, there was one encounter with a pronghorn that was particularly special. Pronghorn are spectacular creatures; their unique shape allows them to run up to 98 km/h (even a young pronghorn can outrun their main predator, the coyote). We expected the pronghorn to bolt as we drew near but it stood its ground and showed off, allowing me to get a fantastic photo opportunity! Pronghorns are such beautiful creatures!

 

Left: A pronghorn showing off for the camera. Above: A melodious meadowlark. Photos credit Josh Christiansen

 

In addition to pronghorn, rural Saskatchewan revealed such an abundance of wildlife that driving down the Trans Canada Highway simply cannot provide. Sighting many loggerhead shrikes, a couple American badgers, a garter snake, and two short-eared owls, we felt so lucky! One dirt road even lead us to a ferruginous hawk nest that was home to two adults and three chicks! That was definitely one of the highlights so far this summer. The ferruginous hawk is the largest hawk species in Saskatchewan and their characteristic brilliant yellow gape and overwhelming size make for one spectacular sight! Carefully observing the chicks from the road, the mother soared above, keeping an extremely close eye on us like any protective mother would. This was just one of the three ferruginous hawk nests we came across during our travels.

 

Above: A ferruginous hawk nest home to three fluffy white chicks. Right: The mother ferruginous hawk soaring above. Photos credit: Josh Christiansen

 

 

A Loggerhead Shrike surveying the land from a shrub, a shy American badger peeking out of its burrow, a ring-necked pheasant flaunting its bold colour palette, a ferruginous hawk mother carefully assessing our car while she sits atop her eggs. All photos by Josh Christiansen

 

Along the way, we stayed in some extremely nice campgrounds in Douglas Provincial Park, Palliser Regional Park, and Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park. We got to watch a storm roll over Lake Diefenbaker in Douglas, roast hot dogs and walk along the southern shore of Lake Diefenbaker in Palliser, and had a fantastic shoreline campground in Saskatchewan Landing where we fell asleep to the lulling sound of waves and eerie howls of coyotes. However, both Grace and I agree that our most eventful experience was in Saskatchewan Landing where, while hiking, we got a little lost. We had seen so many cactus and even a garter snake in the late evening sun but slowly the hills were getting dark and once we were completely consumed by shrubs and trees, we decided to turn around, climb all the way back up the hill and try a different route. Thank goodness it worked because as we came up over the hills, we were welcomed by the warm light of the setting sun over the valley. What a beautiful sight!

 

 

Grace loving the views in Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park. Top Right: Josh absorbing the last rays of sun as they reflect off the water in the golden hour. Bottom Right: Grace enjoying her hike. Photo credits: Josh Christiansen

 

Our final days on the road were spent in Leader, SK whose wildlife statues showcase the species that inhabit the Great Sand Hills southeast of the town. We decided to adventure down into the sand hills and WOW! Out of nowhere, huge mountains of sand rise up out of the native grasses and create such a unique ecosystem! We got to run and cartwheel along the tops of the sand hills, witness a storm sweeping in from the west, and had a close encounter with a deer and blue bird!

 

 

Above Left: Josh and Grace standing atop one of the Great Sand Hills giant sand mountains. Above Right: A shot displaying how abruptly the sand hills shoot up out of the native prairie land. Below: Josh and Grace in Leader, SK with our programs’ species including the ferruginous hawk, loggerhead shrike, and burrowing owl in statue form.

 

 

We have been so lucky to have visited and learned from so many of our programs’ current participants as well as from new participants we have enrolled. Their knowledge of the land is infinite and we appreciate everything they have to teach us in addition to their continued support of our habitat stewardship programs.

 

Now that we are home and after three weeks on the road, we are exhausted  (in a good way) but ready to get back out there to meet more amazing landowners and farm dogs, see some more species at risk, and enjoy the hidden wonders of our beautiful province.

 

Until next time! Get out there and explore our beautiful province! You never know what you will find!

 

Our Bird Species at Risk crew in Willow Bunch SK. From left to right: Shirley Bartz, Kaytlyn Burrows, Grace Schaan, and Josh Christiansen. Photo credit: Josh Christiansen


Josh and Grace in Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park&hellip

Jul
15
Call for Resolutions

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The resolutions considered during the Business Meeting at each year’s Fall Meet are important expressions of member concerns on environmental issues. The Nature Saskatchewan Board of Directors is responsible for acting on all resolutions that are passed by the members. This includes sending resolutions directly to the responsible government ministry and pursuing further action and/or meetings with government and others, as deemed appropriate.

Anyone wishing to submit a resolution for consideration at the 2019 Business Meeting, to be held on Saturday, Saturday September 15, is asked to send a written draft to the Nature Saskatchewan Office (info@naturesask.ca) no later than Friday, August 9. This provides an opportunity to receive feedback from members of the resolutions committee that can help to improve your resolution. It also helps us prepare for the meeting. Please note that resolutions not submitted to the Nature Saskatchewan office by 5 pm on Friday, September 6th will be considered only with the agreement of a 2/3 majority of those attending the business meeting.

Resolution Guidelines:

1. Resolutions must be in keeping with the society’s mandate, bylaws and goals.

2. All resolutions must be submitted in writing.

3. A resolution is, essentially, an exercise in communication. Simple, clear language and   focus on one topic or issue is most effective.

4. Supporting information presented in “Whereas” statements must be accurate and factual.

5. Resolutions should be no longer than one page, and preferably less.

 

Jul
15
Call for Award Nominations

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Each year at the Fall Meet, Nature Saskatchewan recognizes outstanding service and contributions that Society members, and/or affiliate and partner organizations have made towards Nature Saskatchewan’s objectives and goals. Recently, the Awards Committee has recommended that the awards be restructured slightly.

Clear criteria have been established in terms of purpose, eligibility, and nomination procedure. This year, we are seeking nominations for three classes of awards – Volunteer Recognition Award, Fellows Award, and Conservation Award. The Volunteer Recognition Award and Conservation Award can be conferred on the same individual or organization more than once.

The Cliff Shaw Award will also be presented at the Fall Meet. The recipient is chosen by the Blue Jay editors.

Local societies throughout Saskatchewan play an important role in furthering conservation and appreciation of nature at the local level. There are always those who step up to the plate to organize meetings and outings, go the extra mile to help others connect with nature, or work silently and tirelessly behind the scenes. It’s time those contributions were recognized. We encourage anyone from a local society to consider nominating someone from your local group who is a Nature Saskatchewan member, who deserves recognition for any of these awards. Note that nominees for the Volunteer Recognition Award and Fellows Award must hold a current membership with Nature Saskatchewan.

In the interests of space, we are including the Nomination Procedure only for the first award, since the procedure is the same for all three awards. The criteria and names of past recipients can be found on the website at www.naturesask.ca/what-we-do/awards.  The office can also send you a copy by mail, if you prefer.

Nomination Procedure

  • Nominations can be made by Nature Saskatchewan members, directors, and staff. Local societies should consider nominating someone from their local group.
  • Self-nominations will not be accepted.
  • Nominations are to be made in writing and submitted by the published deadline.
  • Nominations are to include the following information: The nominee’s name, address, and phone number; The nominator’s name and contact information; Details of the nominee’s efforts.
  • The Awards Committee will independently rate the nominations, and confirm that the nominee holds a current membership with Nature Saskatchewan.
  • Chairperson of the Awards Committee will bring the recommendations to the Board.
  • If ratified, the President or his/her delegate shall confer the respective Awards to the recipients at the Fall Meet.

 

The deadline to submit nominations for awards is August 23, 2019.

 

All Nature Saskatchewan Awards consist of the following:

  • The announcement of the recipient’s name at the Fall Meet.
  • The presentation of a certificate recognizing the contribution.
  • An announcement in Blue Jay recognizing the distinction.

 

Volunteer Recognition Award

This award was created in 1996 to acknowledge an individual Nature Saskatchewan member who has devoted significant time and energy to promoting the objectives of the Society, including contributions made at the local society level. Priority for this award will be given to a Nature Saskatchewan member whose volunteer work has helped to enhance the public awareness of the Society (this may include contributions to a Society conservation project or program). It may be appropriate in some years to have this award shared by more than one person, if they have worked together on the same project, or on closely related projects.

Eligibility

Nature Saskatchewan members who have provided valuable time and effort in contributing to the Society are eligible. Local societies are encouraged to nominate someone from their local group who is a Nature Saskatchewan member, recognizing that Nature Saskatchewan values their contributions to the overall goals of the Society. The nominee must be a current member of Nature Saskatchewan. This award can be conferred on the same person more than once.

Fellows Award

Purpose of the Award

A motion was passed at the 1987 Annual General Meeting creating a new class of honorary membership entitled “Fellows of the Saskatchewan Natural History Society”. This award recognizes an extensive and continuing contribution of time over many years to the Society and its objectives. Up to five recipients may be chosen annually. Once selected, Fellows hold that title as long as they remain members of the Society. It is the highest honour the Society can bestow upon a member.

Eligibility

Eligible individuals are members of Nature Saskatchewan who have provided an outstanding time and work contribution to the Society over many years. These contributions have been significant, and may have come in the form of leadership, communication, authorship, social media outreach, research, and other areas. The contributions have been cumulative or ongoing, and represent long-standing service or commitment to Nature Saskatchewan and its objectives.

Conservation Award

Purpose of the Award

In addition to advocacy and other forms of conservation action, it is important that Nature Saskatchewan recognize, as it has done since 1953, those both within and beyond the organization who have done “meritorious work in the interest of conservation in Saskatchewan.”

Nature Saskatchewan’s Conservation Award will be presented to an individual or organization whose total contribution to conservation is outstanding, whether in relation to a particular project or in a number of roles over a period of years.

Eligibility

Individuals, affiliate and/or partner organizations, not-for-profit associations, institutions, community groups, businesses, government and non-government organizations that have contributed significantly to conservation in Saskatchewan.

This award can be conferred on the same individual or organization more than once.

 

CALLING ALL PHOTOGRAPHERS

Larry Morgotch Images of Nature Event: Any member may show up to 10 images that illustrate natural history interests and activities, and may speak briefly about them (no longer than two minutes, please). Images labelled with your name should be left with the projectionist before the start of the program. Digital images may be individual files, assembled as a Power Point or similar type of presentation, or an executable file if you are using a slideshow editing program. Please be sure your presentation runs on a standard PC. Individual images must be in jpeg format with the longest dimension of no more than 1500 pixels. Name your images so that they display in the correct order. Digital images should be stored in a folder indicating your name and saved on a USB flash drive. Please be sure that your presentation runs on a standard PC.

We’ll have a computer and digital projector already set up.

Here’s a chance to showcase some of your favourite images of nature without pressure of competition.

Jul
16
Check in with Rare Plant Rescue

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Hello everyone! Rare Plant Rescue checking in again to share more stories from the field.

At the end of June we headed out to search for the endangered Small-flowered Sand-verbena. Luckily for us, this meant we had the opportunity to visit some sandy riverside slopes where this plant is known to thrive. To start off the trip, we headed out to some previously documented populations to collect data on any changes since our last visit five years ago. We headed down the beach full of anticipation and were not disappointed. Within minutes we reached our first site and saw it was full of flowering plants! We were very excited to have such a promising start, and as we continued down the shoreline we found that the second patch we had come to monitor had grown substantially! We walked back and forth along the shoreline flagging plants when all of the sudden the wind picked up and the sky got dark. With a sudden sense of urgency, we scanned the shoreline for any remaining plants and counted them quickly. We hurried back to our vehicle and made it back just in time to miss the massive thunder storm that delivered 50mm of rain (and hail) to the area in just a couple hours!

 

left Small-flowered Sand-verbena (Tripterocalyx micranthus), right Thunderstorm moving into our search area. Photo credit: Emily Putz

 

As the week continued, so did the much needed rain. With careful planning to avoid the afternoon showers, we quickly finished our monitoring work and continued down the beach to look for new occurrences. As we worked our way down miles of shoreline, we discovered that some areas were muddy rather than sandy and we began hauling giant mud plates on our shoes as we walked! Although searching this new habitat was difficult at times, it was also very rewarding. We ended up finding a single Small-flowered Sand-verbena growing in a small patch of sand in an otherwise muddy stretch of shoreline. This single plant was healthy and producing tons of seeds, which gives us hope that there will be many more plants the next time we come monitor the area. We also found a variety of rare shoreline birds. First we saw the endangered Piping Plover, which was particularly exciting for me as I’ve never had the opportunity to see one before. Then we saw a few Long-Billed Curlews (listed as special concern) who persistently lured us and a neighboring coyote away from their nests.

For our next trip we welcomed back the sand and headed out to monitor populations of Western Spiderwort. This threatened plant grows in partially stabilized sand dunes in southern Saskatchewan and when it is not flowering, looks very similar to many grasses. Fortunately, we knew the easiest way to spot Western Spiderwort was by its bright purple flowers which only open from sunrise until mid-morning. So we set our alarms for 4:00am and headed out at sunrise to find this beautiful flowering monocot. Our first day out did not go as we expected. We headed out to the last recorded location of the plants from ten years prior and found that since then, the road side ditch had completely filled with grasses. We scanned the area for purple and didn’t see anything but grass. Still determined to give it our best shot, we walked along the ditch keeping our eyes peeled for our target plant. It didn’t take long before Emily shouted out that she had found one and I hurried over and saw a young spiderwort just starting to produce flower buds. It was very cool to see how resilient these plants were and that they were able to adapt to their changing habitat over the years. Once we saw the first Spiderwort, it was a little easier to spot them among the grasses and we walked (and crouched) slowly through the ditch playing a game I like to call “spot the spiderwort”.

 

Image 1: Can you spot the Western Spiderwort? 

 

 

 

Western Spiderwort beginning to produce flower buds (left), Mourning Dove singing at sunrise (centre) and one of many deer grazing at dawn (right)

 

 

The next day we headed out to a new area which we hoped would have less grass and more blooming Spiderwort. We hiked for an hour and finally reached a sandy hilltop that was filled with beautiful flowering cactus, not so beautiful poison ivy, and more Western Spiderwort. Once again, all the plants we encountered were producing buds but had not started flowering. With only one day left in our trip, we were excited to have found so many healthy populations, but were determined to see a spiderwort flowering. We searched the hillsides and flagged dozens of plants when all the sudden I spotted a single purple flower out of the corner of my eye! With a shout, I hurried over with my camera and documented the first blooming Spiderwort I had ever seen.

 

 

Prickly Pear Cactus and Western Spiderwort with a single bloom. Photo credits: Michelle Lang

 

 

Little did we know that this single purple flower was only the beginning! The next day we went to our final monitoring location; a series of large partially stabilized dunes with perfect habitat. As we approached the first dune we saw the whole area was filled with beautiful flowering Spiderworts! As we went from plant to plant snapping photos we noticed the wide range of shades the flowers were. Most of the flowers varied from light to dark purple but we also found one plant with bright pink flowers which was very cool to see! We were also lucky enough to see a Gibson's Big Sand Tiger Beetle as we crouched among the plants. We spent the day counting Spiderwort that stretched as far as the eye could see. It was an amazing experience and we couldn’t have asked for a better end to such an amazing trip!

 

Sand dunes on route to our monitoring site and Western Spiderwort

 

 

 

Western Spiderwort. Photo by Michelle Lang 

 

 

Until next time,

Michelle Lang – Rare Plant Rescue Habitat Assistant

 

 

Sun coming up through the fog. Photo credit: Michelle Lang

 

Jul
16
Butcherbird Babies are Hatching Now!

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Regina, SK – July 8, 2019 – Be on the lookout for Loggerhead Shrikes (a.k.a Butcherbirds) perched on fence posts, barbed wire, or dead branches in shrub patches and shelterbelts.

 

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!

 

“Now is the best time to see the adult Loggerhead Shrikes because they are constantly on the search for food, to feed their ravenous chicks who are in the nest growing feathers and muscle in preparation for flight”, explains Shirley Bartz, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator with Nature Saskatchewan. “Their hunting strategies include perching high on a twig, hovering above a field and diving onto prey, or walking on the ground while flashing their white wing patches to startle prey into movement”.

 

The shrikes provide natural pest control as their diet consists largely of grasshoppers and other insects. They also eat mice, voles, frogs, small birds, and even snakes! Shrikes will sometimes take prey larger than they are. However, with their little songbird feet, they are unable to grip their prey and tear pieces off like a hawk would. 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 is how they got the name Butcherbird,” says Shirley, “because they hang their meat like your neighbourhood butcher.”

 

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 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. When alarmed Shrikes give a distinctive high pitch shriek.

 

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 Shirley.

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For further information, please contact Nature Saskatchewan:

           

Shirley Bartz, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator      
(306) 780-9832
outreach@naturesask.ca

               

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

          
Photo credit: Randy McCulloch

Jul
22
An Important Bird Area walk around Old Wives Lake

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For five years now, the Important Bird Areas Caretaker program (IBA) Assistant leads a bird walk around Old Wives Lake IBA organized by the Old Wives Watershed Association. I have personally led the bird walk for three years now, and the trip is a highlight for me.

The area boasts plentiful pastures, a vast lake with islands, and shoreline. All of this adds up to a fantastic day of birding, not to mention a fantastic checklist. We usually see a wide variety of species, and this year’s bird walk was no exception! 

 

 

It was a beautiful morning as we set out from Mossback towards Old Wives Lake. We heard a few different prairie species as we drove in nearby pastures. I was very excited to hear Sprague’s Pipit and Baird’s Sparrow singing! These prairie birds become less and less common as more of our native prairie disappears. We also saw Vesper Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Swainson’s Hawk, and a few Eastern and Western Kingbirds.

 

 

As we got closer to the lake, Upland Sandpipers and Marbled Godwits let out alarm calls. A Killdeer ran off the road and tried to distract us with a broken-wing display. Horned Larks flew ahead of our vehicles and landed back onto the road, unbothered by our presence. We turned toward the lake to count water birds. The IBA was originally designated in part because of the large amount of ducks that go there after breeding. There were tons of Canvasbacks and Eared Grebes on the lake. A few of the grebes had young with them. We had the privilege to watch the young get onto their parent’s back! A couple of small sloughs by the road harbored a Sora, a Wilson’s Phalarope, plus lots of Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds. Out in the pasture, we could hear Chestnut-collared Longspurs singing.

 

 

As we continued driving along the lake we saw Franklin’s Gulls flying over, lots of other ducks loafing around, and a couple Forester’s Terns catching fish. It had rained in the area and the roads were a little mucky. So we had to change our regular route, and headed outside of the IBA boundary.

 

We stopped for lunch at the side of the road. We were beside an abandoned farm yard, where we saw a Great Horned Owl watching us from one of the sheds. We have previously seen fledglings in the shed in other years, so they might be nesting there again! We came across a couple more sloughs along our route with lots of water birds. A couple highlights were Green-winged Teals, and American Avocet, and a White-faced Ibis! We traveled to the hamlet of Courval and made one final stop at the bridge just north of town. We saw a few Cliff Swallows, a Black-crowned Night Heron, and a Rub-throated Hummingbird zoomed past us! Normally we would go around the north end of the lake and try to look at the islands on the lake. But because of the roads, we called it quits a little earlier.

 

 

All in all, it was a successful day. We saw over 50 species of bird from start to finish with a few uncommon species in the mix. I can’t wait until next year, when we’ll get to do this all over again!

Jul
24
Piping Plovers Stretch Their Wings

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Regina, SK – July 24, 2019 – It may still feel like summer to us, but Piping Plovers have already begun to prepare for the winter. “Piping Plovers are small migratory shorebirds that nest on sandy or gravely beaches in Saskatchewan during the summer, and spend the winter on the coastal beaches of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Islands such as Cuba,” says Shirley Bartz, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator with Nature Saskatchewan. “Piping Plovers will begin this southerly journey in early August after the young have spent the month of July growing quickly and practicing their flying skills in preparation for migration,” says Shirley.

 

The Piping Plover is an endangered species, which means that it is at risk of becoming extirpated in Canada. A total of 799 individual Piping Plovers were counted in Saskatchewan during the International Piping Plover Breeding Census in 2016. Although this number is a slight increase from the 778 plovers counted in 2011, it is still far below the 1,435 plovers counted in Saskatchewan during the 2006 census. This little shorebird still needs our help!

 

Piping Plovers face numerous threats, including predation of chicks and eggs, human recreational disturbance, and livestock traffic on shorelines, which can cause deep hoof-prints that may potentially trap chicks, and trampling of nests. Water management in reservoirs and lakes can also endanger plovers. If water levels rise, nests can be flooded at the shoreline or adults and juvenile Piping Plovers can be forced up the beach into habitat without the moist sandy soil that supports their invertebrate prey.

 

Identifying Piping Plovers can be easy if you know what to look for. Piping Plovers have a single black neckband, whereas a similar species, called a Killdeer, has two black neckbands. Piping Plovers are also smaller than Killdeer, and have orange legs rather than the dark yellow legs of a Killdeer. Plovers have a lighter grey back than the Killdeer’s brown back, and the Piping Plover’s breast is white. Another distinguishing feature of the Piping Plover is the black tip on its orange bill.

 

Nature Saskatchewan has a voluntary land stewardship program for landowners with Piping Plovers on their land. This program, “Plovers on Shore”, involves a voluntary “handshake” agreement where the landowner agrees to conserve shoreline habitat for these endangered birds. To learn more about the Piping Plover, or if you have Piping Plovers on your shoreline and would be interested in a face-to-face visit and discussion with the Plovers on Shore Coordinator, please contact Nature Saskatchewan at 1-800-667-4668 or (306) 780-9832.

 

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For further information, please contact Nature Saskatchewan:

           

Shirley Bartz,   Habitat Stewardship Coordinator   
(306) 780-9832
outreach@naturesask.ca

                

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


Photo credit: Arnold Janz

Jul
29
Voices from the field - Check in with the Bird Species at Risk staff

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Hello!

This is your Habitat Stewardship Assistant Grace writing to update all of you with the highlights of our most recent Bird Species at Risk trip. My co-worker Josh and I have just returned from nine days of driving the grid roads of Southwest Saskatchewan in search of the Loggerhead Shrike – aka the butcher bird! We are pleased to share with you some very exciting sightings and stories!

We began our journey the second week of July and headed out towards Lake Diefenbaker. With our main goal being to find as many Loggerhead Shrikes as possible, we slowly and carefully began our route. Our first few days, we only recorded a few sightings but things quickly turned in our favour. Following the grid roads, we had the opportunity to see so much of our beautiful province and fortunately, we came across a number of Loggerhead Shrikes as well! At this time of year, the chicks have already begun to leave the nest, and are learning to fly and hunt. The picture below on the left is an immature shrike which can be identified as such by its fluffy, “messier” plumage on its belly and also its shorter tail feathers. The adult shrikes have much smoother feathers on their bellies and longer tail feathers – as can be seen in the picture on the right. The young are also more likely to stay still for photos because they are inexperienced and have not yet learned to be more cautious around visitors.

 

 

Left: an immature Loggerhead Shrike. Right: an adult Loggerhead Shrike. Photos: Josh Christiansen

 

 

 

A Loggerhead Shrike perched on the fence watching a Swainson’s Hawk before dive-bombing it. Photo: Josh Christiansen

 

 

For the first few nights of our trip, we camped in Douglas Provincial Park. In the evenings, we enjoyed exploring the wilderness and found a number of outdoor activities to occupy our time. Our first night, we completed about 10 km of the TransCanada loop by bike. The trail passed through dense forest and open grassland where we saw many Western wood lilies, Saskatchewan’s Provincial flower, blooming along the way. After the ride, we went for a quick swim in the cool water of Lake Diefenbaker and took in the beautiful beach views. Another evening we decided to hike into the park’s sand dunes located just minutes from the campground. The sand dunes continued as far as the eye could see and seemed to stretch endlessly. It was hard to believe that such diverse ecosystems could exist in such close proximity. During our hike in the sand dunes, we came across a dead ten-lined June beetle over 4 cm long, a beautiful goldfinch, and a deer.

 

 

Left: Western wood lily growing along the TransCanada bike loop. Right: Josh and Grace hiking in the Douglas Provincial Park sand dunes. Photos: Josh Christiansen

 

 

Left: Ants eating a dead ten-lined June beetle. Right: Goldfinch perched on branch. Photos: Josh Christiansen

 

 

Josh enjoying  the sand dunes. Photo: Grace Schaan       Grace on top of a dune. Photo: Josh Christiansen

 

Although our main target for the grid road search was the Loggerhead Shrike, we also spotted a number of other bird species at risk. We came across four Ferruginous Hawks as well as several Bobolinks! Pictured below are a few of the Great Horned Owls that we discovered along the way. While they are not a species at risk, they certainly are a sight to see!

 

Left and right: perched Great Horned Owls. Photos: Josh Christiansen

 

We ended our trip with Nature Saskatchewan’s Conservation Awareness Dinner in Val Marie. We gave a joint presentation with our Rare Plant Rescue colleague, which was followed by a presentation on Loggerhead Shrikes from Shirley Bartz, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator. It was a fantastic evening of informative presentations, delicious food, and great conversation with local landowners and producers.

With only a few weeks of summer remaining, we are keen to get back on the road soon to meet with more landowners and discover even more species at risk. Until next time!

Grace Schaan, Habitat Stewardship Assistant

 

An immature Loggerhead Shrike perched on the fence wire. Photo: Josh Christiansen

 

 

 

 

Jul
29
Keep your eyes peeled for those bright yellow Burrowing Owl eyes!

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Regina, SK – July 29, 2019 – It’s that time of year again, young Burrowing Owls have begun to leave their nests! For the past several weeks, juvenile owls have been carefully tended to and fed by their parents. Now they are independent and ready to learn how to fly and hunt for themselves. Late July and August is a great time of year to spot the owls out and about or perched on fence posts, but it is also a dangerous time for the juveniles.

 

At this point in their lifecycle, the Burrowing Owls are a bit like teenagers - they are keen to be independent but lack experience. The juveniles tend to forage for food on the road and in the ditch. Kaytlyn Burrows, a Nature Saskatchewan Habitat Stewardship Coordinator, suggests this is because “at dusk the road surface tends to be warmer than surrounding grasslands, attracting many small insects and rodents and as a result, young owls are also attracted and they begin searching for prey.” For this reason, the juveniles are at a greater risk of collision with vehicles. Motorists can prevent collisions by reducing their speed and keeping an eye out for Burrowing Owls on or near the road.

 

Burrowing Owls can be identified by their mottled brown and white feathers, their stilt-like legs, and of course their bright yellow eyes. The birds are about the size of a robin with a height of about 9 inches, but they have large wings compared to the rest of their small body. They are commonly found in native or tame grasslands and will use the burrows of badgers, ground squirrels, and other burrowing mammals for nesting.

 

Launched in 1987, Operation Burrowing Owl is one of Canada’s longest running conservation programs and aims to conserve the remaining parcels of land used by Burrowing Owls in Saskatchewan. Through voluntary landowner agreements, the program also monitors the population of this endangered species. If you have Burrowing Owls on your land or just happen to see one, please call 1-800-667-HOOT (4668). The program coordinator, Kaytlyn Burrows, says, “you will be helping to monitor the population and aid with conservation efforts.” Personal information 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
(306) 780-9270
mranalli@naturesask.ca

 


Photo credit: James Villeneuve

Aug
15
A Tasty Way to Help Conserve Species-at-Risk

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Regina, SK – August 5, 2019 – The prairie region, as well as its biological diversity, is one of the most endangered landscapes in the world. Now, thanks to Sentinel Bottleworks, there is a new way to help conserve species at risk in Saskatchewan. The Rosthern based alcohol producer has recently released a series of locally made ciders that highlight species at risk in the province. “It's sort of like the old hinterland who's who, but for adults”, explains the cider makers owner Keith Jorgenson. “Each variety that we make has both the image of a Saskatchewan species-at-risk and a bit of information about the species. We hope to raise the profile of these species, why they are in trouble, and raise money for people fighting to save them.”

 

Prairie Sentinel has pledged to donate $1 for each litre sold. It will be used to support Species at Risk programs run by Nature Saskatchewan. In June, the cidery raised $1,000 for Nature Saskatchewan; they hope to raise over $20,000 a year. 

 

Nature Saskatchewan offers a suite of five voluntary stewardship programs that engage rural landowners and land managers in conserving habitat in southern Saskatchewan to benefit species at risk, ecosystem health, and people. The programs use flagship (rare) species to promote awareness of our disappearing prairie and parkland landscapes and their biological diversity. “It is an indescribable feeling when an unsolicited business is willing to step forward to support programs that are designed to conserve our precious grassland landscape and the species that inhabit them. We can’t thank Keith enough for his foresight and generosity and hope to continue our partnership well into the future” says Jordan Ignatiuk, Executive Director for Nature Saskatchewan.

 

“Drinking and the environment don't seem to go together, but people want to know that what they make and what they buy is part of the solution and not part of the problem”, says Jorgenson.”  “I am a farmer; I see what we have lost, and hope that we can save what is left. We have lost 87% of our original prairies. Imagine losing 87% of your house, that's what Saskatchewan endangered species are living with.”

 

You can find the new ciders on tap in Saskatoon at:

  • Yard and Flagon
  • High Key
  • Rook and Raven
  • Cork and Kettle
  • Winstons
  • Shelter
  • Louis’

And for purchase at:


  • Sobeys Stonebridge
  • Sobeys Preston Crossing
  • Sobeys Yorkton
  • Sobeys Humbolt
  • Sobeys Emerald Park
  • Sobeys Rochdale
  • Sobeys Southland
  • Metro Saskatoon
  • Metro Regina
  • Willow Park Regina
  • SLGA University Heights
  • SLGA Confederation Park
  • SLGA Idylwyld
  • SLGA Avalon
  • SLGA 8th Street
  • SLGA Quance
  • SLGA Broadway
  • Red’s Liquor Store
  • Sperling Silver
  •  

 

For further information, please contact:

 

Jordan Ignatiuk, Nature Saskatchewan Executive Director
306-780-9293 or jignatiuk@naturesask.ca

Keith Jorgenson, Sentinel Bottleworks
306-491-4848 or keith.ydc@gmail.com

 

Photo credit: B. Quist

 

Aug
15
2019 Fall Meet

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Join us in Greenwater Provincial Park (September 13-15)

Friday September 13th

6:30pm- Registration and refreshments at Greenwater Recreation Hall

7:30pm- Introductions and greetings from the park followed by :

Larry Morgotch Photo Presentation (Bring your memory cards/usbs with your nature photos to share)

8:15pm -Explanation of details and logistics of Saturday’s tours

 

Saturday September 14th

*Breakfast provided at the Recreation hall at 7:00 am*

8:00am—Board bus - departure for Marean Lake for hiking/birding

11:30am—boarding bus for departure for lunch break

1:00pm — Board bus for departure to Van Brienan Nature Sanctuary

3:15pm — Return to Greenwater Provincial Park

4:30pm—Business meeting at Recreation hall

5:30pm—Cocktails

6:15pm—Dinner/Banquet

7:30pm — Awards

8:00pm — “Prairie Resilience” – Saskatchewan’s Climate Change Strategy

Presented by Ministry of Environment, Climate Change Branch

 

Sunday September 15th

Breakfast on your own – available at café at own cost

Explore the park and area for the day

 


 

Please send in your registration form via mail to: 206-1860 Lorne St. Regina, SK  S4P 2L7

or scan and email to: info@naturesask.ca

If you prefer to call in your registration please call 306-780-9273 or 1-800-667-4668

2019 Fall Meet Registration Form

See you there!

Aug
23
Farewell from the RPR Field Crew

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Hello once again fellow nature enthusiasts! Hard to believe our last trip for the summer has come and gone, but before we say goodbye we are back to share some of our final adventures from the field!

Our third last trip took us to the sandy soils of Southwest Saskatchewan on the search for Smooth Goosefoot. This plant is threatened and is unique in that its small green sphere-shaped flowers grow in dense clusters. Aside from growing in eroded sandy soils, you can find it at the edges of dunes. Our search was quite successful as we came across many occurrences of Smooth Goosefoot including the tallest and widest one we have seen all summer! This trip turned out be an exciting one in terms of reptile sightings too as we had some of the coolest interactions with snakes! As we were trekking through the sandy soils I spotted something slowly moving between the vegetation out of the corner of my eye. As I looked closer I realized it was snake and shouted with joy to Levi! It was the first time either of us had ever seen a bullsnake! Just when we thought it couldn’t get better, the bull snake stopped, dug its head into the sand, and then continued to burrow as we watched the rest of its body disappear in front of us. We also were lucky enough to see two hog-nosed snakes. Later that trip we were treated to one of nature’s finest stormy skies as an orange and pink filled sunset sky was overlaid with blueish-grey clouds with flashes of lightning.

 

Smooth Goosefoot (top left), the stormy sky (top right), a defensive hog-nosed snake (bottom left), bull snake burrowing (bottom right) 

 

 

Next we ventured into the hills on the hunt for a threatened plant known as Tiny Cryptantha. This plant is a member of the Borage family. Its hairy or bristly appearing leaves are a key feature in identification. Even though after three days of searching we did not find the target species, we took in the spectacular views of the rising sun spreading a gorgeous golden glow over the rolling hills and a great amount of wildlife including deer, golden eagles, coyotes, turkey vultures, and cute rabbits. A couple of days in, we switched gears from our usual searching routine into a visit trip. This gave us the opportunity to say hi to several landowners and exchange stories of nature and plants which is always great! We were even taken on some tours around their lands to see the wildlife in their yard, and of course we got to stop and say hi to several friendly and cuddly farm dogs! One of the highlights during these visits was getting to watch both male and female hummingbirds feed. We also got to see the entertaining sight of watching ducks munch down on grasshoppers which I had no idea was even part of their diet! The drives between locations were quite pleasant as it seemed to be a week full of baby animals. We saw an abundance of pronghorn accompanied with babies (super scrawny and cute by the way!), fawns, a mama coyote carrying her pup, and two fox pups. What would a summer be without getting lost on back roads?! On our way back from a visit we missed our turn off and ended up on an unfamiliar road which led to one of our most exciting scenes of the summer: four loggerhead shrike chicks (the predatory songbird that is the target species of our Shrubs for Shrikes program) all in a line on the thorny branches of buffaloberry! During our explorations we stopped in at the Great Sandhills, the Standing Rock, and the T-rex Discovery center.

 

 

Loggerhead shrike chicks Photo credit: Natanis Kuster

 

 

Some of the beautiful sunrises we saw throughout our last few trips. 

 

 

A pronghorn we came face to face with (left), Myself and Levi during our explorations at the Great Sandhills (right).

 

Our final journey took us in a different direction as we headed out southeast near Estevan with hopes of seeing Buffalograss. Its preferred habitat is dry, shallow coulee bottoms and clay soil slopes. This grass is very interesting as the male and female grasses appear different. The males are easily identified by orange coloured anthers and can grow up to 12 cm tall while female flowers appear shorter and often entangled amongst the short curly grass with the seeds encased in a burr. A good time to see Buffalograss is in August as patches will appear golden separating it from the surrounding grass. This monitoring trip was a huge success, and we found most populations to still be alive and thriving! It also had Levi very happy as the fields were filled with fescue which is his favourite. We experienced a bit of an eerie feeling on our last day there as ten turkey vultures were circling in the sky in close proximity to us. It was neat to see so many at one time!

 

 

Male Buffalograss with anthers (left), female Buffalograss (middle) photo credit: Levi Boutin, photographic evidence of Levi as happy as can be in Fescue (right). 

 

On our final drive back to the city with thunder and lightning rolling in all round us, we recalled all our favourite moments from the summer: stumbling upon a moose skull, finding pincushion cactus flowers after months of searching and anticipation, making friends with owls, staying in hotels with bats, and so much more! It has been a summer filled with laughter, learning, beautiful native plants, various wildlife experiences, and many country music sing alongs. It truly has been one for the books! And with that we say farewell and hope everyone has a great rest of their summer and gets a chance to head out to experience their own wild Saskatchewan adventures!

 

 

 

Dotted blazing star (top left), Pincushion cactus flower (top middle), Prairie lily (top right), Gaillardia (middle left), Prairie coneflower (middle right), the moose skull we found (bottom left), Ferruginous hawk (bottom right). Photo credit: Natanis Kuster

 

 

 

Take care everyone!

Natanis  – Rare Plant Rescue Searching Crew member