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May
6
50 years of the Saskatoon Bluebird Trail

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.

 

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