Archives for 2022

Jan
19
Whooping Cranes Shot and Left in Oklahoma

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January 19, 2022


Conservationists throughout North America are dismayed and angry to learn that four endangered Whopping Cranes were recently shot and left to waste in Oklahoma. Discovered in December the birds were on their way to wintering grounds at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf Coast.

The number of North America's best known endangered species dwindled to 21 birds in 1941. Six of these birds were non migratory that lived year round in the wetlands of Louisiana. They were all lost to hurricanes in the 1940s. The remaining 15 birds migrated 4000km to nesting grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada's Northwest Territories. Through decades of conservation efforts, wild Whooping Cranes now number around 500 in the Aransas Wood Buffalo population. In addition, there are about 150 birds that have been reintroduced in Wisconsin and Louisiana, and another 150 or so in captivity bringing the total to about 800 whoopers left in the world.

These birds would have passed through Saskatchewan a few weeks prior to arriving in Oklahoma. Early efforts to monitor and protect Whooping Cranes were led by conservationists at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Regina. In recent years’ flocks of up to 100 Whooping Cranes have been observed in the Marcelin area north of Saskatoon. Fortunately, the general public and responsible hunters along the migratory route treasure and protect North America's tallest birds. It appears that the birds found in Oklahoma were shot with a shotgun which means the shooters were very close and should have known the birds were Whooping Cranes.
 

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For further information, contact:

Lorne Scott
Conservation Director, Nature Saskatchewan
Trustee, Whooping Crane Conservation Association
Phone: 306-695-2047
Email: lorne.scott@sasktel.net

Or

Brian Johns                  
Retired Whooping Crane Biologist
Trustee, Whooping Crane Conservation Association
Phone: 306-373-1228
Email: bdjohns@sasktel.net

 

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

Photo credit: Kim Mann

 

Jan
28
Come work with us!

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Nature Saskatchewan has the following job opportunities. All positions are based in Regina, involve extensive travel in southern Saskatchewan, and start in early May, 2022. General qualifications include a strong interest in conservation and environmental education, and studies in the fields of biology, ecology, geography, agriculture, or other related studies. Applicants should have strong communication, computer, and organizational skills; be self-motivated with the ability to work independently as well as part of a team; hold a valid driver’s license (vehicle will be provided); and be willing to travel and work flexible hours, including outdoors. Applicants should also be able to hike to field sites carrying field equipment. First Aid and CPR certification is an asset.

Applications for all postings must be sent via email and will be accepted until 11:59 pm on February 28th, 2022. We thank all applicants for their interest, however, only those selected for an interview will be contacted.

Due to COVID-19, the following positions will follow all Saskatchewan Public Health Authority guidelines, thus, proof of vaccination may be required and schedules and protocols will be subject to change on short notice throughout the position terms.

 


 

Habitat Stewardship Summer Assistant

 

Positions: Two full-time summer positions for 16 weeks @ $18/hour. Summer assistants will assist in the delivery of our Operation Burrowing Owl, Shrubs for Shrikes, Plovers on Shore and Stewards of Saskatchewan banner programs.  These programs promote conservation of habitat for prairie species at risk.

Tasks and responsibilities: Assist program coordinators with program delivery; prepare communications and educational materials for distribution; assist in searches, monitoring and other conservation activities; contact and communicate with rural landowners regarding target species; educate targeted public audiences about species at risk on the prairies; and help deliver workshops and presentations to agricultural producers and the public (virtual and/or in-person).

Specific requirements and qualifications: Willingness to travel extensively, to camp, work evenings and weekends, and to adapt to schedule and protocol changes on short notice. Should also possess basic wildlife and plant identification skills, computer skills, communication skills, and familiarity with GPS, maps and rural Saskatchewan are assets.

 

Please email a cover letter and resume in one PDF file to Rachel Ward at outreach@naturesask.ca by  11:59 pm, February 28th, 2022. Include in the subject line “Summer Assistant Application” followed by your name.

 


 

Rare Plant Rescue Habitat Stewardship Summer Assistant

 

Position: One full-time summer position for 16 weeks @ $18/hour. The summer assistant will assist in the delivery of our Rare Plant Rescue program.  This program promotes conservation of prairie plant species at risk.

Tasks and responsibilities: Assist program coordinators with program delivery; prepare communications and educational materials for distribution; assist in searches, monitoring and other conservation activities; contact and communicate with rural landowners regarding target species; educate targeted public audiences about species at risk on the prairies; and help deliver workshops and presentations to agricultural producers and the public (virtual and/or in-person).

Specific requirements and qualifications: Basic plant identification skills (training in rare plant identification will be provided); willing to work flexible hours outdoors including in inclement conditions; willing to adapt to changing schedules due to unexpected circumstances or adjustments based on field conditions; willing to travel extensively; to camp; work evenings and weekends; ability to hike to field sites carrying equipment; strong organizational skills; familiarity with GPS and maps is an asset.

 

Please email a cover letter and resume in one PDF file to Emily Putz at rpr@naturesask.ca by 11:59 pm February 28th, 2022. Include in the subject line “Application: RPR Summer Assistant” followed by your name.

 

 


 

Rare Plant Rescue Search and Monitoring Staff

 

Position(s): Two full-time summer staff for 16 weeks @ $20/hr.  Search and monitoring staff will assist in the delivery of our Rare Plant Rescue program, which promotes the conservation of prairie plant species at risk. The search and monitoring staff will work as a semi-independent team, with daily check-ins during field shifts up to 10 days, under the supervision and mentorship of the project leader. 

Tasks and responsibilities: Plan and conduct occupancy surveys and monitoring of prairie plant species at risk; contact and communicate with landowners regarding target species.

Specific requirements and  qualifications: Basic plant identification skills (training in rare plant identification will be provided); willing to work flexible hours outdoors including in inclement conditions; willing to adapt to changing schedules due to unexpected circumstances or adjustments based on field conditions; willing to travel extensively; to camp; work evenings and weekends; ability to hike to field sites carrying equipment; strong organizational skills; familiarity with GPS and maps is an asset.

 

Please email a resume and cover letter in one PDF file to Emily Putz at rpr@naturesask.ca by 11:59 pm February 28th, 2022. Include in the subject line “Application: Rare Plant Search and Monitoring Staff” followed by your name.

 

 

 


 

Last Mountain Bird Observatory - Banding Intern

 

Last Mountain Bird Observatory (LMBO) located at the Last Mountain Regional Park is the only monitoring station in the province and, in 1992, joined the Canadian Migration Monitoring Network. LMBO began in the fall of 1989 with a modest banding program, and since 1990 has undertaken intensive landbird migration monitoring. Information gathered provides us with insights into population trends, longevity and movements of birds. On average, 3400 birds of 76 species are banded annually, and since 1990 LMBO has banded 70,000 birds of 115 species. The total number of birds moving through the area is much higher since banding occurs in only a small section. The five most abundant species banded are: Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Clay-colored Sparrow, Alder Flycatcher, and Least Flycatcher. The majority of the migrating songbirds are neotropical migrants (birds breeding in northern latitudes of the Americas and wintering in the tropics).

 

Position(s): 2 internship positions (May or August-September) – $165.00 per day (this includes any applicable GST charges that are not reimbursable to Nature Saskatchewan), camping space is provided and food costs will be reimbursed.

Tasks and responsibilities: The individual will assist with migration monitoring and banding activities at our Last Mountain Bird Observatory (LMBO). Activities include daily bird censuses, checking and removing birds from mist nests, recording banding data, and providing interpretation to visitors. The Bander-in-charge (BIC) will provide on the job training; such training may include (but not be limited to) extracting birds from mist nets, bird handling, banding, in hand species identification and ageing/sexing. Other duties expected from intern include scribing data for the BIC, opening and closing mist nets, collecting bird observations and interacting with members of the public who visit the observatory.

Qualifications:  Must have an existing federal sub-permit or be able to acquire one. Moderate to good bird recognition skills. Applicants should hold a valid driver’s license and be willing to work flexible hours at times. First Aid/CPR certification is an asset.

 

We prefer to receive applications by email. Email a cover letter and resume, with preference of May, August-September, or both in one pdf. to Lacey Weekes at lweekes@naturesask.ca Include in the subject line “LMBO intern position” and your name.

 


 

For all positions, preference will be given to Canadian students or recent graduates whose studies include the fields of biology, ecology, geography, agriculture, or other related studies. All else being equal, preference will be given to those who self-identify in their cover letter as being part of an underrepresented group or as having additional barriers in the labour market, such as visible minorities, LGBTQ2 individuals, Indigenous individuals, women in STEM, or persons with disabilities.

 

Nature Saskatchewan is a non-government charitable organization that engages and inspires people to appreciate, learn about, and protect Saskatchewan’s natural environment.



 

Feb
28
Interested in Northern Leopard Frogs, wetlands, or Saskatchewan conservation efforts?

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Interested in Northern Leopard Frogs, wetlands, or Saskatchewan conservation efforts? Join us for webinars on March 10th at 7PM CST featuring presentations on Northern Leopard Frog and wetlands, and March 15th at 7PM CST featuring presentations about current conservation efforts in Saskatchewan. This is a free event but registration is required. Click the link to register today!

 

Wild About Wetlands:

 

Mar
3
Conserving the Legacy: Wildlife Conservation in Saskatchewan, 1905-2005

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by Wayne Pepper 2022

 

Nature Saskatchewan is delighted to announce our newest publication, Conserving the Legacy: Wildlife Conservation in Saskatchewan, 1905-2005. Having fallen in love with Saskatchewan's wildlife from his first experience watching male sharp-tailed grouse on their dancing ground, Wayne Pepper devoted a lifetime to wildlife conservation. In Conserving the Legacy, he relates personal experiences, augmented by extensive research andarchival photos, tracing changes in wildlife populations and demonstrating how approaches to wildlife conservation have evolved in the face of settlement, development and ecological change. A fitting tribute to the people, governments, and non-governmental organizations involved, this 392-page publication fills an important gap in our natural history record. All lovers of wildlife, professionals and amateurs alike, will find this an engaging and useful publication.

Conserving the Legacy: Wildlife Conservation in Saskatchewan, 1905-2005 is now available from Nature Saskatchewan’s online store and is now available at the retailers listed below for $34.95 + GST.

  • Turning the Tide (Saskatoon, SK)
  • McNally Robinson (Saskatoon, SK)
  • Penny University Bookstore (Regina, SK)
  • Rumour Handcrafted Gallery (Regina, SK)
     

 

 


 

Conserving the Legacy: Wildlife Conservation in Saskatchewan, 1905-2005 is currently available through the Nature Saskatchewan online store and will soon be available at select retailers throughout Saskatchewan. Retailers will be listed below as they become available.



 

May
3
Saskatchewan Must Halt the Sale of Crown Lands

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In which direction is Saskatchewan going when it comes to protected places and what is the Government doing to increase or at the very least retain protected places in Saskatchewan?

Canada’s native grasslands are among the most endangered biomes on the planet. Sadly, it is estimated that less than 14% of native grasslands in Saskatchewan including aspen woodlands remain in Southern Saskatchewan. The health of these lands are of critical importance. They support many plants and animals, including at least 30 species at risk, they store carbon and protect our land from the effects of climate change and they contribute directly to the economy and livelihoods of local people.

In 1992, Saskatchewan signed on to the “Statement of Commitment to Complete Canada’s Network of Protected areas” and at that time 12% was set as the target for formally protecting a percentage of each province’s total area. This target has not been updated since it was created!  When other Governments (International, Federal and Provincial/Territorial) recently updated their own biodiversity goals and targets to 25% and 30% of the land base, Saskatchewan did not. Saskatchewan continues to fall behind other provinces and territories when it comes to officially protected places. The province has designated protection for less than 10% of its land base.

Starting in 2010, the Government of Saskatchewan took steps to remove protection and conservation management from tens of thousands of acres of Crown lands in the south where we can ill afford to lose an acre.

It began with an announcement that some of the land protected under the province’s Wildlife Habitat Protection Act (WHPA) would be reclassified and then removed from the act and put up for sale. Thousands of acres of WHPA public land, once protected from sale, have been removed from the Act and sold, many without conditions of protection. Land with a recognized ecological value is sold with a Crown Conservation Easement (CCE). However, fines are insignificant, monitoring and enforcement are not consistent and conditions of the CCE are often ignored.

The loss of native grasslands in Saskatchewan continues. The Government of Saskatchewan has and continues to sell-off Crown lands, many acres of which hold great ecological value. It is estimated that since 2007 more than 1.5 million acres of public lands have been sold. Over time the selling of Crown grasslands leads to grassland loss. History has shown us that if the land is in any way useful to cultivation and growing of crops, it will over time be broken and seeded to crops. Most private lands that have not been broken are either still owned by families who value native grassland and have resisted the financial incentives to sell or convert the land to annual crop production OR the land is not at all suitable to growing crops. With rising land prices, it has become affordable and even profitable for farmers and producers to convert native land cover and seed it to crops. And conversely larger farmers have begun to see any non-cropped land cover as a liability. These factors are driving an accelerated loss of habitat in farm country—in native grassland in the south and southwest and in aspen parkland bluffs and wetlands in central and east-central Saskatchewan.

Liquidating Crown land is permanent and irrevocable. We need to ensure that the remaining public lands in Southern Saskatchewan remain in the public domain. While the province has added protected areas in the north of the province in the past few years, there have not been any additions to the protected areas program in the prairie regions. When we remove protection and conservation programming from Crown lands—particularly in our grasslands ecoregions, which are already under so much pressure for development—we are in a sense robbing the future of its biodiversity.


 

 

May
4
Chaplin Nature Centre is Hiring

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Employer name: Chaplin Tourism Committee Inc.

Wage/salary: $15-18/hr (commensurate with experience)

Location: Chaplin, SK
Positions available: 2
Application deadline: May 12, 2022

Employment terms: Seasonal full time and/or part  time
Employment length: Mid-May to late August Monday-Friday 9-5
Experience: Some experience would be an asset
Education: Returning to post secondary is preferred

 

Job Description: Applicant will welcome visitors to the Nature Centre, conducting tours of the interpretive centre and telling the story of the local area. Operational aspects of the retail gift shop, handling cash, debit/credit transactions, daily cash receipts reconciliation, tracking inventories. Daily updates as required on social media platforms. Light duty cleaning and maintenance necessary inside and outside building. Knowledge of and interest in shorebird and grassland species and prairie grassland baitat an asset - training is also available.

Essential Skills:

- Excellent oral communication, friendly and outgoing nature
- critical thinking
- ability to work well with other employees
- job task planning and organizational skills
- knowledge of computer, internet and social media platforms

 

How to apply:

Email resume to chapnatcentre@gmail.com
Contact info: Lisa Fisher 306-796-7978
 

Jun
2
There’s No Place Like Home: Burrowing Owls Return to Saskatchewan

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Regina, SK – June 1, 2022 – Burrowing Owls have completed their long journey back to the Saskatchewan prairies after overwintering in Texas and Mexico. Spring is underway and so is the Burrowing Owl’s breeding season! The Burrowing Owls have paired up and right now the female owls are incubating the eggs (average 6-12), while the males are busy providing food for the female and can be seen standing next to the burrow or on nearby fence posts.

Despite being called Burrowing Owls, they actually do not dig their own burrows! These owls have to rely on burrows created by badgers, ground squirrels (gophers) and other burrowing mammals. While it’s important to minimize disturbances near a Burrowing Owl nest, Burrowing Owls actually coexist very well with cattle and other grazers because the shorter grass on a grazed pasture allows them to sight predators more efficiently. They also use the manure to line their burrows to absorb moisture, regulate temperature, attract insects for food and hide their scent from predators. Burrowing Owls will often nest in ditches and cultivated lands as well.

If you find Burrowing Owls in your pasture, congratulations! Not only are you providing important habitat for an iconic prairie species, these owls also provide many advantages including free pest control. According to Nature Saskatchewan’s Habitat Stewardship Coordinator, Kaytlyn Burrows, “Burrowing Owls eat huge numbers of insects, mice, voles and grasshoppers. Over the course of a summer, one owl family can consume up to 1800 rodents and 7000 insects!”

These one-of-a-kind owls can be identified by their small size, they are only about 9 inches tall, and light and dark brown mottled plumage with white spots. They have round heads with large yellow eyes and white ‘eyebrows’. Their long featherless legs give them the appearance of walking on stilts. Burrowing owls are one of the smallest owls in Canada and the only species of owl that lives underground!

Nature Saskatchewan’s voluntary stewardship program, Operation Burrowing Owl, works with almost 350 land stewards to conserve Burrowing Owl habitat and monitor population numbers in Saskatchewan. Operation Burrowing Owl records sightings to help determine the population trend and distribution of the Burrowing Owl throughout the province. This information can then be used towards efforts to conserve and restore the habitat and population of these charismatic birds.

“Without the voluntary efforts of land stewards 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 are lucky enough to spot a Burrowing Owl, please give a “hoot” by calling 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. Private information is never shared without permission.

 

For further information please contact Nature Saskatchewan:

 

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

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

 

Photo credit: Boyd Coburn

 

Jun
7
Rare Plant Rescue- First field trip of the season!

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My first 10 days of fieldwork for the Rare Plant Rescue program have been humbling in ways I would have never anticipated.

I expected the wide open vistas, the living skies, and the rolling hills. What caught me by surprise was the sheer determination of our wildlife in the face of hardship. I underestimated the biodiversity that continues to thrive in the often unseen coulees, native pastures, and seemingly sparse fields that stretch across our province.

Despite the hawks soaring overhead, and the many rattlesnakes among the grass, I saw a juvenile Horned Lark successfully hide herself behind a little bit of sage and sedge. Despite the abundant coyotes and elusive cougars, my partner and I were visited by two young white-tailed deer. They were so inquisitive that they visited us 3 more times over the course of an afternoon, getting braver and closer each time.

 

Top: Western Kingbird, bottom left: juvenile Horned Lark, bottom right: Horned Lark nest. Photo credits: T. Dubbin-McCrea

 

The rare plants we seek represent an integral part of this system, as well as a glimpse of the future for all of the wildlife we encounter. Habitat loss impacts fragile ecosystems disproportionately, and our grasslands are some of the most fragile. Some of these plants and their seeds can remain dormant for years waiting for the right conditions, and in many cases this makes them difficult to study and protect. So we rely on the perseverance of our amazing landowners to protect these often overlooked areas. The collaborative approach that I see championed by Nature Saskatchewan wouldn't be possible without the farmers and ranchers who take an interest in preserving these magnificent habitats. Their efforts are needed and appreciated now more than ever.

Discovering Saskatchewan for me means exploring valleys filled with wild chokecherry blooms, their fragrance hanging in the warm spring air. Or turning your attention to the songs of all the migratory birds that fly so far for the legacy of new life. It demands a keen eye for the hundreds of wildflowers, grasses, trees and shrubs that dot the land. I find myself constantly in awe at the variety and biodiversity that one can find upon learning to slow down and look a little closer.

In short, I find myself constantly in awe of Saskatchewan.

 

Top left: Penstemon nitidus, top right: Astragalus bisulactus (silver-leafed milkvetch), bottom left: Large reflexed rock cress, bottom right: Large nest in wild chokecherry. 

 

 

 

Jun
22
The Search for Dwarf Woolly-heads

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Psilocarphus brevissimus var. brevissimus, or the Dwarf Woolly-heads, to me resembles a fuzzy little head of cabbage or cauliflower. About the size of a penny or less. All I can say is that after days of searching, finally seeing this miniscule fella was a different kind of exhilaration.

The road to that moment was paved with obstacles. From evasive driving caused by gophers that seem to be magnetically drawn towards your tires, to more skillful driving caused by slipping and slopping down the rain-soaked grids, resulting in all the windows being showered in mud and water. Luckily, we were able to avoid the gophers and make through the mud, at which point the real journey would begin. Hours and hours of slow pacing with head bent, looking for Dwarf Woolly-heads.

You really have to be patient when looking for plants, and as a typical young adult struggling with being patient it has been excellent practice. It’s led me to appreciate the small details of each day and the landscape around me that make being a part of the rare plant search crew so rewarding. The unoccupied houses of old alongside highway 13, slowly being reabsorbed into the prairie, serving as reminders of the lives that have been and are being lived in southern Saskatchewan. A nest of baby horned larks packed tight, huddled together like a tennis ball of fluff and beaks. A lonely cow we had met that spent the recent winter alone, which we were able to witness being reunited with its herd. 

Eventually, the weather turned harsh and the wind and rain chilled my partner and I to the bone. Soggy and disappointed from the lack of Dwarf Woolly-heads sightings, we decided to finish the area we were searching and then call it a day. Of course, this would be the place and time where we actually found the plant we had been searching for! Although that meant we had to spend a lot longer stewing in wet boots and having the rain beat against our cheeks, we now had the warm blood of the season’s first major find pumping through us. And, as it turns out, the following day we found many more! 

The wind subsided, allowing me to finally stop standing at a 45 degree angle again, and the clouds parted. I celebrated the trip's success by taking in the gorgeous sunset and playing my accordion on the railroad tracks. Thanks to Consul, Saskatchewan for letting us visit!

 

Top:Thomas and Jesse celebratory selfie after finding their first DWH, bottom left: the first DWH of the season, very small and very soggy but they found one!, bottom right: Jesse playing his accordion. All photo credits: T. Dubbin-McCrea

 

Jun
29
Happy Canada Day - to you AND the endangered Piping Plover!

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Regina, SK – June 29, 2022 – With summer holidays starting full force ahead, many are heading out to our beautiful Saskatchewan beaches for some summer fun! While enjoying some beach time be sure to watch out for other families sharing the beaches, including the endangered shorebirds, Piping Plovers!

These cute, and surprisingly well camouflaged, shorebirds nest on sandy or gravelly beaches above the high water line, and adults may also be seen closer to the water’s edge looking for invertebrates to eat. The nests are incredibly well-camouflaged and consist of a shallow depression lined with small pebbles that contains about 4 speckled eggs. “Piping Plover eggs are very difficult to see and easy to accidentally trample or run over, so we are asking the public to watch carefully as they enjoy the sunshine along our shorelines”, says Rachel Ward, Plovers on Shore coordinator.

Peak hatching occurs in mid-June, but late nesters may still have eggs on the beaches. At this time of year, Piping Plover hatchlings are also exploring our beaches! These tiny chicks are quite hard to see and will crouch motionless when they detect predators (or humans). Since they are not able to fly for the first couple weeks, until their wings mature, they are very vulnerable. Adult Piping Plovers will do their best to protect them, by attempting to lure predators away from the nests or chicks by faking a broken wing and calling loudly. If you see a Piping Plover that appears to be acting injured make sure to carefully watch your step as you leave the area to avoid stepping on eggs or chicks!

You are most likely to see or hear an adult Piping Plover before seeing a nest or chicks. They are small with a sandy-coloured back, white belly and several distinctive markings - a single black neck band, a black band on the forehead, and a short black-tipped orange bill. While Piping Plovers appear similar to Killdeer, Killdeer are larger, darker brown and have two black neck bands. Piping Plover chicks appear to resemble cotton balls on stilts, however their backs are a speckled sandy brown.

Our province provides important nesting habitat for these adorable endangered shorebirds. “Saskatchewan is home to the highest number of breeding Piping Plovers in Canada, so we feel responsible to keep these birds safe as they raise their young and prepare for the long trip back south” says Rachel.

If you come across a nest site or think you may have seen a Piping Plover, please call our toll free Hoot Line at: 1-800-667-HOOT (4668).

 

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For further information please contact Nature Saskatchewan:     

 

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

 

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

          

Photo credits: R. Ward

 

 

Jun
30
Upcoming FREE events exploring the Great Sandhills

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We are excited to be partnering with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Birds Canada and the Prairie Conservation Action Plan to host three events this summer.

 

  • Conservation Awareness Day (July 13th, Community Hall, Consul, SK 6pm). Join Nature Saskatchewan and the Prairie Conservation Action Plan for an evening of conservation and bringing local like-minded people together! This in-person event will feature a locally-catered supper and educational presentations on conservation efforts in the area. Regsiter HERE.

     
  • NatureTalks: The Great Sandhills Webinar (August 4th, online event, 7pm). During this webinar, you will learn about what the Great Sandhills are, why they are important both culturally and environmentally, as well as current conservation efforts that are ongoing in the area. This event will also feature guests from Nekaneet First Nation. Regsiter HERE.

     
  • (THIS TOUR IS NOW FULL)

    From Sand to Sky: The Great Sandhills Tour
    (August 13th, Great Sandhills Museum, Sceptre, SK, 2pm). Nature Saskatchewan is joining forces with Nature Conservancy and Birds Canada to give you a tour of one of the most unique areas in Saskatchewan, the Great Sandhills!

    This in-person event will feature presentations about the conservation work in
    the area, a BBQ-style supper at the Great Sandhills Museum in Sceptre, SK, and guided tours in the Great Sandhills that will feature plant and bird walks and a tour led by a member of Nekaneet First Nation. Transportation between Sceptre and the Great Sandhills will not be provided. A moderate fitness level will be required for the evening sandhill tour. Register HERE.

     
Please regsiter online at the links above or call 1-800-667-4668 or email obo@naturesask.ca
Jun
30
Voices from the Field

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Hello! We are Nature Saskatchewan’s Habitat Stewardship Assistants for the summer 2022 season, Brynne McMaster and Cory Tufts. The ball got rolling quickly this year, and we’ve already been on what feels like a lot of trips and adventures that we’d love to share about!

After our first few days out in the field being guided by one of our wonderful Coordinators, Rachel, it’s safe to say we learned and saw a lot! We began our trip near Val Marie, SK where we learned how to do range health assessments (RHAs) as well as worked on our grass and plant identification skills. We definitely have a huge appreciation for those who are grass experts after the trip because jeepers, grasses are hard to identify!

We were lucky to be joined by some joyously calling Sprague’s Pipits during our RHA training in the pasture, so our ears are now well trained to pick up on that tell-tale descending call! We also saw some pretty Crocuses, Buffalo Beans, Three Flowered Avens, and some very colourful Moss Phlox.

While we were down at Val Marie we also spent some time working on our bird identification. It was all review for Cory, who is an avid birder, but Brynne was able to learn a lot! We were super lucky to see and hear a few Long-billed Curlews, Loggerhead Shrikes, a Chestnut-collared Longspur, and were even lucky enough to stumble across a Burrowing Owl chasing a Coyote away from its burrow! It was definitely a very successful trip to kick off the summer!

Later in the week we tagged along with the Rare Plant Rescue (RPR) crew to search for Slender Mouse-ear-cress (SMEC) near Abbey, SK. It was a chilly two days and we didn’t find any SMEC, but we did find some other interesting tidbits, like part of a deer skull and antlers. Additionally, we had a few lessons that quickly taught us it’s important to quadruple check for Pincushion Cactus, and then check again, before kneeling in the prairie! Although we didn’t have any luck in our search for SMEC, it was great to spend time with the larger Nature Saskatchewan team and to get an idea of what the RPR crew will be up to this summer!

I’m (Cory) not usually one for beaches. On a previous outing to a beach in Mexico, I was ridiculed for my choice of beachwear, which could be described as business casual (jeans and loafers), so for me to enthusiastically arrive at a beach there must be a truly unique and exciting experience. This past week on the shores of Lake Diefenbaker was exactly that. When we were invited to help the Water Security Agency (WSA) on their annual Piping Plover Census. It was mentioned that this was an area that was very important for these endangered shorebirds, however, I didn’t truly understand how critical this habitat was for them until I heard it being described as “the Toronto of Piping Plovers”. With around 5% of the continental population of this species arriving at this huge expanse of beaches in mid-May to mate and begin raising their young. It really drove the point home just how incredibly important this shoreline is for them and how great of a responsibility we have to give these birds their best chance at raising as many young as possible and to give this species a fighting chance at survival.

 

 

Photo credits: Brynne McMaster and Cory Tufts. Top left: Plover in action, top right: sneaky Plover, bottom: view of the lake

 

On the first day we were told that we were most likely going to hear these amazingly camouflaged birds before we would be able to spot them, so on the truck ride over we were sure to listen to a couple of samples of their calls and I tried my best to burn the sound into my brain. Luckily the first Plover we spotted was very obliging and decided to fly a couple of laps in the air in front of us. The rest of the birds for the week were not so extroverted and studying their “peeps” began to pay off in spades. The ID’ing got slightly easier, but never less exciting.

I didn’t know much about Piping Plovers before but having spent a week watching and learning from the incredibly welcoming and hardworking Piping Plover Crew at the WSA and I am amazed at just how adaptable these birds are and how strong of personalities the individual birds have. It also became apparent how important it is for us as humans to realise what kind of an impact we are having on this species, with one of the primary areas of concern for the decline in their population being nest destruction due to activities such as driving off road vehicles on the beach and allowing off leash dogs to run the beach, and what can be done to help lessen our impact on a species that is already struggling to survive.

While this week was about the birds, it was also about spending a week with some great people at an amazingly beautiful location, and it is absolutely a time that I will look back on fondly for many years to come. I am very grateful for having been able to be a part of this experience and I am incredibly excited for the weeks to come. There was also time for the main attraction, which was talked about almost as much as the plovers, leading up to the trip and that was Josie, the resident donkey at Coyote Springs Campground. I am sure she doesn’t understand why some of her attention was incorrectly being diverted towards some birds :) 

Until next time!

Brynne and Cory

 

 

Photo credits: Brynne McMaster and Cory Tufts. Top: Josie (the main attraction), bottom left: Mossphlox, bottom right: Deer skull.

 

Jul
5
Busy times for the Butcherbird!

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

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

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

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

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

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

- 30-


For further information, please contact Nature Saskatchewan:

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

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

 

 

Photo credit: Boyd Coburn

 

          

           

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Jul
28
Burrowing Owls, Sunsets and Dinosaurs?

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

Until next time!

Cory & Brynne

 

Photo credit: C. Tufts

 

 

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

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

Each year, young foraging Burrowing Owls are injured or killed by vehicles along roadsides. The steady decline of the Burrowing Owl population has made the survival of each and every juvenile owl critical for the persistence and growth of the population. Luckily, those of us driving in rural Saskatchewan can play our individual parts in conserving the Burrowing Owl species. Kaytlyn Burrows suggests that “when motorists are driving in rural areas, particularly nearby pasture land, it’s important that they take a few extra minutes and slow down. This will reduce the risk of owl-vehicle collisions”. Slowing down will also increase your chances of spotting this endangered bird!

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

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

Nature Saskatchewan has been involved with the protection and conservation of the Burrowing Owl for 35 years, relying on the help of landowners, land managers, and the public. Operation Burrowing Owl partners with stewards across southern and central Saskatchewan, and uses voluntary agreements in an effort to conserve the rapidly disappearing habitat required by the owls, as well as to monitor the Saskatchewan population. The program works alongside steward practices, and the land continues to be used in a way that benefits the steward. “If you see a Burrowing Owl, please give us a call on our toll-free Hoot Line, at 1-800-667-HOOT (4668) or email obo@naturesask.ca,” Burrows mentions. “You will be helping to monitor the population and aid with conservation efforts.” Information provided is never shared without permission.

 

For further information please contact Nature Saskatchewan:

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

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

 

 

Photo credit: Tammy Thomas

 

 

 

Aug
5
The search for Smooth Goosefoot

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

I cannot picture a more perfect finale for our trip.

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

Photo: J. Patterson

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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The last couple of weeks have seen a surge in Monarch butterfly and caterpillar (larvae) sightings. With the upcoming national Flight of the Monarch Day on August 20th, now is the perfect time to sharpen your Monarch identification skills and capture some photos and observations to share in the celebration!

Monarchs are a species at risk throughout their range with Saskatchewan being at the northern extent of their range. Nature Saskatchewan’s Stewards of Saskatchewan Coordinator, Rachel Ward, says “it takes between three and four generations for Monarchs to get from their over-wintering grounds, in Mexico, to Saskatchewan.” She adds “the generation emerging now will live the longest, making the full journey south back to Mexico to overwinter, so it is extra important that we help conserve the habitat for this incredibly important generation of Monarchs.” Nature Saskatchewan runs the voluntary Stewards of Saskatchewan program that works with communities and landowners to conserve Monarch habitat and help monitor the population each year.

Monarch butterflies are identifiable by their bright orange colouring with black veins throughout their wings, along with white spots on their black body and the outside edges of their wings. “Watch out for look-a-likes such as the Viceroy,” explains Ward. “Viceroys look very similar but have an extra stripe on their hind wings that cross their veins.” The Monarch caterpillars have distinct white, yellow and black stripes with black filaments on both ends. Ward adds “you will see these caterpillars nearly exclusively on milkweed plants”.

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

 

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

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

 

 

Photo credit: Brynne McMaster

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

For further information, please contact Nature Saskatchewan:
 

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

 

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

 

 

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