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The search for Smooth Goosefoot

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


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