Welcome to the April edition of Saskatoon NatureKids Buzz. April means we should be keeping our eyes open for pussy willows, crocus, and geese and pelicans returning from their winter migration. Instead, I’m look-
ing at the snow falling outside my window. We always get a few robins and Canada Geese that overwinter in Saskatoon, but the ones we are seeing now are just arriving from their winter migration and are searching out nesting sites. I wonder what goes through their mind when they get back to the prairies and find we are still in the grip of winter? Even more amazing is that many of the birds have delayed their migration because of our poor spring weather. How do they know? What kind of bird communication happens to let birds thousands of kilometers away know what is happening in Saskatchewan?
This late spring will be tough on our hibernating critters as well. I’ve seen a few ground squirrels running about, but I think they’ve all gone back underground to wait for warmer weather. Good thing many of them stored some extra seeds in the fall just in case there was a late spring. Great Horned Owlets have begun hatching. I wonder how they make it through the cold weather. The Young Naturalists learned a little about Great Horned Owl ecology in March with our owl pellet workshop. Check out the pictures. We found some pretty neat bones in our owl pellets.
The late spring will most likely mean that some of our programs, like the Crocus Hike and the Pike Lake Field Trip, may need to be rescheduled. Watch for e-mail updates if you are registered in these programs.
In March the Young Naturalists’ learned about using owl pellets to study biodiversity. Owls cannot digest bones, so the bones of their prey are coughed up in the form of a pellet which can be dissected to see what the owls have been eating. Photos by Marianne Maiboll and Greg Fenty.
Prairie Crocus Signals Approach of Summer
By Judy Toews
At the first breath of spring the “ears of the Earth”, as they are called by some First Nations people, push their way up from the half-frozen prairie. As Prairie Crocus buds strain to hear the approach of summer, they may well be covered in a late snow. The delicate appearance of our earliest spring flower is deceiving. It is well adapted to survive our perilous prairie condi- tions. A dry fall and little snow cover will be a real test for this little fur-coated gem this year.
Prairie Crocus in full bloom.
Photo by Tara Sample / Alberta Plant Watch http://plantwatch.naturealberta.ca/
For many, the Prairie Crocus is the first true sign of spring. Because the carpets of pale blue blooms reminded the English settlers of the similar shaped crocus at home, they named our spring jewel “Prairie Crocus”. Other Europeans called it Pasque Flower, an old French reference to Easter. In fact, dye made from the flowers was used to colour Easter eggs.
Botanists include Prairie Crocus in the Buttercup family and call it Anemone patens. Greek tradition tells of Amenos, the wind who engaged little flowers to announce his coming in spring. Hence another common name, Prairie Anemone, translates as “flower of the prairie wind.”
The pale blue, mauve or occasionally white flowers usually grow in ground-hugging bunches with a single bloom on each stem. Each flower has five to seven petal-like parts called sepals, but no true petals. The sepals can vary in length from two to four centimetres across. Like the rest of the plant, silky hairs cover the outer surfaces of the sepals. The furry coat acts as a deterrent to insects and grazing animals.
As the plants mature the flower stalks lengthen. The multi-segmented leaves under each bloom become more prominent and the longer leaves at the base of the plant expand. Like the upper foliage, the basal leaves are much divided, grey-green in colour and covered in hairs. Sepals on the flowerheads fall away and replaced by silver-haired plumes attached to seed-like fruit. The spherical fruit heads, dubbed “lion’s beard” or “prairie smoke” eventually lose their feathery fruits to the wind.
“Prairie Smoke” A Praire Crocus seed pod ready to disperse its seeds into the wind.
Photo by Kirk Harrold / Alberta Plant Watch http://plantwatch.naturealberta.ca/
Since Prairie Crocus prefer dry prairie grasslands and sand hillsides, we don’t have to travel to far to see them. They are often spotted along the riverbank.
Those searching at Beaver Creek, Cranberry Flats, the Strawberry Hills, Pike Lake, and Wanuskewin will good displays. Our pocket of prairie, the Saskatoon Natural Grasslands and the adjacent Peturrson’s Ravine will be rich with spring blooms.
If you like wildflowers a little closer to home, grow them in your garden. A rock garden is an ideal spot. Prairie Crocus need well drained soil and a sunny location. With the growing of wildflowers becoming increasingly popular more nurseries are offering native species. Some nurseries and seed stores sell Prairie Crocus seeds. Taking plants from the wild is not an alternative.
Judy Toews is a member of the Saskatoon Nature Society. This article was originally published in 2002.
Farewell to Spirit the Great Horned Owl
The Young Naturalists lost a great friend and animal ambassador with the death of Spirit the Great Horned Owl in March. Spirit began life as a hatchling owlet at Saskatoon’s Forestry Farm Park Zoo in the spring of 2002. Unfortunately, she suffered an eye injury when she was about three weeks old. The injury to her eye required constant care, so Spirit was moved to an indoor space where we could care for her and tend to her eye. This is where the adventure begins for Spirit and her human helpers.
A four week old Spirit hangs out with Joyce Messer at Saskatoon’s Forestry Farm.
Wild animals have a natural fear of humans, so working with wild animals can be very challenging. But occasionally the animal you are working with begins to bond with you. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it is wonderful. It is also a wonderful opportunity for education. In Spirit’s case, she began to bond with the people caring for her.
the importance of the biodiversity of Saskatchewan and the ecology of the Great Horned Owl. She was a big part of the Young Naturalists owl ecology programs, and she tied in so nicely with our local schools study of Farley Mowat’s Owls in the Family. Where ever Spirit went she quickly became the centre of attention. People left their encounter with Spirit in awe of her size, her amazing plumage, her gentle hooting, and her bright yellow eye. People left with a new respect for Great Horned Owls.
Owlets grow up very quickly. In a few months she was now an adult-sized owl, complete with power- ful legs and long, sharp talons. We were continuing to treat her eye, but it had become obvious that the treatments were not working. The veterinarians made the decision to surgically remove Spirit’s right eye.
Spirit came through the operation with flying colours. The loss of her eye did not seem to bother her much, and she had no trouble flying and landing on a branch. She also really enjoyed getting outside with her handlers. On our trips outdoors we would meet visitors to the zoo and introduce them to Spirit (or Spirt – Spirit without the ‘I’) and tell them her story and a little about the ecology of the Great Horned Owl. Spirit was very comfortable around people and we realized we had a great educational opportunity sitting on our hand.
Over the next 15 years of her life, Spirit visited thousands of students in and around Saskatoon. She became an important part of the Saskatoon Zoo Society’s outreach team and was instrumental in teaching about
Spirit was right at home being centre of attention in any classroom.
Spirit “retired” in the spring of 2017 and passed away in March 2018.
Upcoming Young Naturalists Programs:
Enrolment is limited on Young Naturalists programs.
Early registration is encouraged to avoid disappointment.
Registration is taken on a first-come basis. To register e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and indicate the program for which you would like to register. You must register for each activity separately.
(You can register for more than one activity at a time). Most programs are free unless otherwise indicated. At least one parent/guardian must accompany your child/children on all Young Naturalists activities
Young Naturalists Crocus Hike – only a few spots left!
Postponed to Sunday, April 29 at 1:00 p.m. Northeast Swale
Celebrate Earth Week with the Young Naturalists as we walk on the native prairie and look for Prairie Crocus and other signs of spring. Watch our web and Facebook page as this field trip date might change depending upon the blooming time for the crocus.
Young Naturalists Pike Lake Field Trip “SOLD OUT”
Saturday, May 5 from 12:00 noon to 3:30 p.m.
(Although this date may change if spring does not arrive soon) Pike Lake Provincial Park
Cost: Free – donations accepted. Advanced registration is required.
Join the Young Naturalists for lunch around the campfire followed by nature activities including our search for wild dragons, damsels, fairies, and frogs*. (*Dragonflies, damselflies, fairy shrimp, and frogs). Space is limited on this very popular program so register early!
Young Naturalist Great Horned Owl Banding Field Trip “SOLD OUT”
May 2018 – date to be announced.
This is an evening program usually from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Cost: Free. Donations always accepted. Advanced registration is required.
We will join naturalists’ Marten Stoffel and Martin Gerard as they band and collect scientific information from wild Great
Horned Owls. Space is limited. Pre-registration is required.
Young Naturalists’ Bluebird Trail
Starts May 30 and runs into early July – evenings and weekends. Watch for a schedule on our web page around mid-May
I am still working on dates and leaders for programs such as the butterfly field tirp, peregrine falcon field trip, pruple martin field trip, and grassland field trip. Watch the website, Facebook, and future newsletters for updates.
Click here for more upcoming Young Naturalists Programs
(some of the fall programs have been posted)
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Want more nature?
Earth Day is April 22 (on a Sunday this year). There are many things you can do to protect our planet and conserve resources. Earth Day is a single day to remind us of how wonderful the Earth actually is, and how we depend upon a healthy planet to survive. Earth Day is your day to get out and explore our planet and do more to use resources wisely. And not just on Earth Day. Make every day Earth Day.
Attention Nature Kids Teachers
Living Sky Wildlife Rehabilitation Outreach Program: Engaging Students with a live animal
Wildlife Educators from Living Sky Wildlife Rehabilitation will visit your classroom with live animals including bats, birds and their Thirteen-line Ground Squirrel for a wild 45 minute presentation. Because Living Sky is a wildlife rehab centre, they have a unique perspective on the connections between humans and animals. Topics are curriculum based for each grade level and focus on habitat, community, animal characteristics, animal growth, and what to do if you encounter an injured or orphaned animal. Basic fee is $50.00 per class ($75.00 for bat presentation) and funds raised from the presentations support animal rehabilitation.
Call Living Sky Wildlife Rehabilitation for more information and available dates at 306-281-0554 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to book your presentation.
NEW: Thanks to a grant from Nutrien and the Saskatoon Foundation the Living Sky Wildlife Outreach program can now be offered to
10 community school classrooms at no charge. This is a first-come-first-served offer.
Saskatoon Zoo Society On-site and Outreach Education Programs
Learn about biodiversity, species at risk, climate change, and Saskatchewan’s wildlife with the Saskatoon Zoo Society and their curriculum-based education programs. Programs take place at Saskatoon’s Forestry Farm Park Zoo or through their outreach program in your classroom. Visit the Saskatoon Zoo Society website for more information on educational critters, programs, and fees.
Check out EcoFriendly Sask.
A weekly round-up of everything environmental in Saskatchewan, and small action grants as well.
The Prairie Naturalist is a live weekly radio show every Thursday at 6:00 p.m. on 91.3 FM, CJTR, Regina Community Radio. But you can also listen on channel 806 on SaskTel Max, or download the CJTR Smartphone App. Host Jared Clarke covers a variety of nature related topics from the prairies. Podcasts can also be found at https://soundcloud.com/theprairienaturalist or http://cjtr.ca/podcasts/
Saskatoon Nature Society
Lots of field trips (open to all ages) and other information
You can even download the latest newsletter from the Saskatoon Nature Society.
The next meeting of the Saskatoon Nature Society is Thursday, April 19
Thursday, April 19 at 7:30 p.m.
Room 106 Biology (W.P. Thompson) Building on the U of S Campus
Admission is free and everyone is invited. Visit www.saskatoonnaturesociety.sk.ca for more information.
COMING IN MAY: The NatureCity Festival May 22 -27
NatureCity Festival offers 6 days of adventures, discoveries, and family fun (most of it free!) to help you fall in love with the wild side of Saskatoon.
Explore the nature of our city. Attend an evening of conversation with keynote speaker Harvey Locke, founder of Nature Needs Half. There is something for everyone at NatureCity Festival. Enjoy over 50 nature-inspired events to help you discover, appreciate an enjoy nature in Saskatoon.
Visit wildaboutsaskatoon.org for more information.