Archives for 2021

The Voice from the Field - July 9


This trip was a bumpy one that is for sure, the weather was up and down, and the wind almost knocked me to the ground. The entire ten days of the trip were spent near Eastend Saskatchewan where we searched for Dwarf Woolly-heads (Psilocarphus brevissimus). It was within the depressions of the prairie’s rolling hills where we spent most of our time looking for that small white puffy flower. Dwarf Woolly-heads are about the size of a dime and grow in sporadic clusters or as individuals. It was a good year for this species and the majority of the individuals observed were quite healthy despite the region being incredibly dry.


This is what a successful search looks like. Lots of flags means lots of dwarf woollyheads (plenty of counting to do)



Looking for such a small plant species has been challenging but we were lucky enough to come across several new populations of this rare species. Let me tell you, we had fun counting thousands and thousands of these tiny individuals out in the hot prairie sun. I really do feel honoured though to have the opportunity to see this incredibly rare species first hand. After all, it is only found in the very southwest corner of the province and these tiny fuzzy plants only occur in ephemeral wetlands. I didn’t know what the word ephemeral meant before this trip and now it is one of my favorite words. This trip has been ephemeral but the memories made with my awesome field mates will last a lifetime.



A cluster of beautiful looking dwarf woollyheads we found while out searching. These ones are actually pretty big in size (the size of a dime). Often we find clusters where individual plants are no bigger than a pea.



Hiking between these ephemeral wetlands was a chore not to turn an ankle because the series of used or abandoned badger holes threaten to engulf your whole leg. That is when you are not tripping over bleached white bones of cows past. A welcome break to examine the remains and get creative.


Spencer and gillian jamming with their new bone instruments



Our search team has grown from two (myself and Spencer) to three. Having Gillian join us has been a blast. The three of us have bonded over our common struggles with ADHD. We often joke about how easily we get distracted and are always making up games to keep things interesting during long searches. The abundance of fascinating things to see helps keep our minds active nonstop as well. One afternoon, on our lunch break, Gillian spotted a dung beetle out on the dusty gravel road. I had no idea we had dung beetles in this province! The poor thing was desperately trying to roll a piece of gopher dung back to its family but every time it made progress, the wind blew it miles back. Being immersed in nature has allowed me to witness so many cool insect phenomena. While hiking to a search location, I happened to take a closer look a thistle. What I witnessed was a group of ants harvesting honeydew from aphids that were happily feeding on the plant's sap. So neat to see.


We saw a lot of shining arnica in bloom while out searching on this trip



This part of the adventure was certainly interesting as we finally found the target species which was an awesome release of search tension. I doubled my plant and scientific knowledge with the double combination of Ashley and Gillian’s amazing capacity to communicate their ideas. The space this week allowed everyone to shine and find balance as a team despite the fierce wind and scorching heat.



A stunning pincushion cactus 



We had the distinct pleasure of being dive bombed by willets during our work in one polygon. The Willet makes a call like will-will-willet, similar to the naming calls of Pokémon. Beside the call, Willets can be identified by their black and white wings while in flight. On the ground they look like large plovers that feature long beaks and legs. Many of the polygons we searched had nesting birds who enjoyed the water present in the ephemeral wetlands. Beside the Willets that disapproved of our visit, we saw pairs of Red-winged Black Birds and unidentified ducks. Both of which were not too happy about us stumbling upon their hidden nests.

While the animals of the air appeared in and out of sight, the animals of the ground provided a much more pleasant viewing experience. Several field mice flitted in and out of holes in the old folded grass covered in dried pond scum. In and amongst our feet slithered plains garter snakes with bright orange and yellow stripes amidst black scales. One of the largest individuals which we observed promptly escaped into the local dugout to hide amongst the algae.



A garter snake we saw out for a swim in the local dugout



Each direction you look here contains millions of unique treasures. This time around I noticed more snakes, more nests, and more bones. The capturing of these finds and the rewarding learning experience has made the challenge of the long days not so bad. Especially searching for a speck in the vast prairies it’s nice to have a team to grow and have fun with.



scarlett guara -- another species we had the delight to see blooming while out searching on this trip.



All in all, it’s been another successful trip with plenty of adventurous challenges and I am once again overjoyed by all the new plants I’ve learned and curious natural phenomena I’ve seen. Looking forward to a nice rest before heading back out :)



when life gives you ground plums, you.... stick them in your nose? Sometimes the scorching heat really gets to us while out in the field....

*all photos taken by Ashley Mills*


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