July / August 2018
It’s summer! The summer solstice (our longest hours of daylight) was in June, so that means the days are get- ting shorter. But don’t panic, there is still lots of warm, summer weather ahead. You may have already noticed that it is getting darker earlier each day. Perfect timing to take in the Perseids meteorite shower without having to stay up late into the night. The Perseids is one of my favourite meteorite showers. We actually get 10 to 12 good annual meteorite showers each year. The Perseids in August and the Geminids in December are some of the best. I like the Perseids because the weather is usually perfect for spreading out a blanket and lying on your back in the dark. This year the Perseids will take place from August 11 to 13.
Meteorite showers get their names from the constellation from which they appear to be coming. But the shoot- ing stars or meteorites do not originate in those constellations. The Perseids meteors originate from the Comet Swift-Tuttle which orbits our Sun every 130 years or so. (Earthlings will get a chance to see it again when it passes 23 million kilometers from Earth in 2126). Each year the Earth’s orbit passes through the dust trail of the comet. Most of the dust particles are only about the size of a grain of sand, but they are spectacular when they enter Earth’s atmosphere. If you rub your hands together quickly you create friction, and your hands feel the heat caused by the friction. According to meteor experts, the dust particles of Comet Swift-Tuttle are moving at 59 km per second. At that speed the friction caused when the dust particles rub up against our atmosphere is incredible. It causes the dust particles (and the air around them) to become very, very hot, creating a brilliant streak of light that we call a shooting star or meteorite.
To best place to observe a meteorite shower is someplace dark. Get away from the lights of the city if you can. Places like Cranberry Flats or the Northeast Swale are good places as you have a wide open view of the night sky. (Cypress Hills Provincial Park and Grasslands National Park in southern Saskatchewan are designated Dark Sky Preserves, so those places will be ideal). This year should be an especially good one for the Perseids meteor shower as the moon will just be a small crescent, making the sky much darker than a full moon. Find a comfortable place to sit or lay down and watch the night sky. It will actually take your eyes a while (15 minutes or longer) to become adjusted to the night sky. But once you’re comfortable, sit or lay back and enjoy the show. The meteor experts say the Earth will pass through Comet Swift-Tuttle’s dust trail from August 11 to 13, with the Earth passing through the dustiest part of the comet trail on August 12. I sure hope it is cloudless night on August 12. (Graphic from www.skyandtelescope.com)
Butterflies at the Northeast Swale
The Young Naturalists is about getting kids interested in nature. It’s not that hard: kids love nature. In July we are looking at butterflies (and other insects) and the Northeast Swale. Here is a quick beginners’ look at some of the more common butterflies we might expect to encounter.
Butterflies and moths belong to the group of insects called the lepidopterans. It is a special word used by scientists that means ‘scaly wings’. Both butterflies and moths have scales on their wings. (A butterfly is actually a type of moth.
You can tell the difference by shape of their antennae). The scales are quite delicate and loosely attached, which is why we need to know how handle
butterflies without damaging their scales. You can check out the scales for yourself. Carefully look for dead butterflies or moths on the front grill of parked cars or around an unplugged ‘bug zapper’.
If you rub their wings the scales will come off on your fingers in the form of a dust.
Butterfly wings are covered in thousands of these dusty scales. The scales help the butterfly warm up its body by catching heat from the sun. The scales are also what gives the butterfly its beautiful colours. Take a close look at the scales. Some are colourful, some are transparent, and some are iridescent giving off shiny colours when the light hits them.
If you are walking at the Northeast Swale or other natural area around Saskatoon you will see butterflies fluttering by. Here is quick looks at some of the more common ones.
Common Wood Nymphs are probably the most common brown coloured butterfly at the Northeast Swale in July. These are brownish-coloured butterflies with large eye spots on their wings. You can tell the boys from the girls because the girls are bigger and have bigger eye spots. If we do catch a male, be sure to check out its upperwing for a purple iridescence. (Photo from www.bugguide.net)
Yellow Butterflies will most likely belong to the group of butterflies known as ‘Sulphurs’. The most common Sulphur at the Northeast Swale is the Clouded Sulphur. The upper- wing will give you a clue as to who is a boy and who is a girl. The beautiful yellow upper- wing has a thin black border. On the males the black border is solid, on the females there will be yellow spots on the border. (Photo from www.butterfliesandmoths.org)
The White Butterflies we encounter will most likely be Cabbage Butterfly (or Cabbage White). These are a European species that was accidentally introduced into North America over 150 years ago. Today, they can be almost everywhere. Gardeners don’t like them as their caterpillars can damage garden plants. Up close, these are beautiful little butterflies with a greenish tinge to the underwing. (Photo from www.butterfliesandmoths.org)
The small blue butterflies will belong to the group of butterflies appropriately known as ‘Blues’ and they have great names like Spring Azure, Silvery Blue, Greenish Blue, Arctic Blue, and Melissa Blue. The Spring Azure is the most common Blue on the Northeast Swale, as they are fond of Saskatoon and Chokecherry blooms. (Photo from www.butterfliesandmoths.org)
There are always surprises when looking for butterflies. We will be keeping our eyes open for the butterfly with the cool sounding name: Great Spangled Fritillary. Their underwings are fairly dull, but when flying they are a beautiful orange and black. (Photo from www.butterfliesandmoths.org)
There are a lot more butterflies to be found. Butterflies love the nectar from flowers. It makes them important pollinators for the wildflowers growing in our natural areas. As you notice the butterflies, take note of which flowers each type seems to prefer.
Young Naturalists Report
Once June rolls around the Young Naturalists take on their premier environmental education project: the Bluebird Trail. Saskatoon’s Bluebird Trail was started in 1969 by the Young Naturalists (called the Junior Naturalists back then) led by Mary Houston. At the time, bluebirds were a species in decline. This was mainly to due habitat destruction and competition for nesting sites by introduced species like the European House Sparrow and the European Starling. Bluebirds are cavity nesters, which means they nest inside cavities in old trees. Usually an old woodpecker’s nest. One of the solutions to help bluebirds across North America was to create artificial tree cavities; better known as a birdhouse. (Although Bluebird Trail people prefer the term ‘nestbox’).
Adult Mountain Bluebird watches the Young Naturalists at a nest box.
T. Jackson photo.
There are Bluebird Trails all over North America. Ours is part of a trail running from Edmonton to Winnipeg. (Our section of the trail runs from Langham to Hanely). Each year volunteers check the nestboxes and record the species of bird and the number of eggs or young bird in the box. Mary Houston was interested in more than just the productivity of the birds (how many eggs and babies), she wanted to know things like where bluebirds went for the winter, how long do they live, and do they return to the same nest each year? To understand this you need to track the bird with a numbered leg band. Mary obtained a scientific permit from Environment Canada’s Bird Banding Office to band birds. This made Saskatoon’s Bluebird Trail something special, as the Young Naturalists not only monitored the productivity of the birds, we
also studied their survivorship and other factors with leg bands. Forty nine years later and the Young Naturalists are still banding birds on our bluebird trail.
This was very busy June checking all the nest boxes on the bluebird trail. Most were occupied by Tree Swallows and quite a few had House Wrens (and one chickadee family!). But the exciting news was the Mountain Bluebirds. We knew it was going to be a good year when the first nestbox we checked had bluebirds! This year we are happy to report we managed to band 36 juvenile Mountain Bluebirds – up from 20 last year. We wish all our birds a safe journey south and we hope to see many of them return to their nestboxes again next year for our 50th year of banding on the bluebird trail.
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’ Butterflies and other insects ‘SOLD OUT’
Thursday, July 19 at 1:30 p.m.
Space is limited. Advanced registration is required. Cost: Free (Donations accepted)
We will be exploring the area around the Northeast Swale in search of butterflies and their favourite wild flowers. On this field trip we learn the proper techniques for catching and observing butterflies. We hope to catch a variety of butterflies and other insects to learn about their ecology – including some of the native plants they love. We will be using butterfly nets, but we only have a limited supply. Be prepared to share.
Space is limited. E-mail email@example.com to register or for more information.
Young Naturalists’ Sandhill Crane Field Trip
Saturday, September 22
Space is limited. Advanced registration is required. Cost: Free (donations accepted)
A field trip south of Saskatoon to look for migrating Sandhill Cranes and other wildlife. We’ll have binoculars and a spotting scope along to demonstrate how these tools can improve your wildlife watching experience. Parent Advisory: we will be walking along the shoreline of the South Saskatchewan River on this field trip.
Space is limited. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to register or for more information.
At least one parent/guardian must accompany your child/children on all Young Naturalists activities.
Young Naturalists’ Saw-whet Owl Field Trip October 2018 – the date will be determined by the owls! 7:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Cost: Free (donations accepted).
Some travel is involved. 80 km round trip
Space is limited. Advanced registration is required.
We will join naturalist Martin Stoffel as he collects scientific information from migrating Saw-whet Owls. Saw-whets are an extremely cute owl so this program fills up quickly. Enrolment is limited. Advanced registration is required.
The date for this program has not been set. The actual date is set by the owls and when they decide to migrate. E-mail email@example.com to register or for more information.
Young Naturalists’ Bird Feeder Workshop
Saturday, November 3
Cost: $10.00 ($5.00 for members of the Saskatoon Nature Society or the Saskatoon Zoo Society) Space is limited. Advanced Registration is required.
Learn about winter bird watching with a bird feeder. Bring a hammer and build your own bird feeder to take home.
Enrolment is limited. Pre-registration is required. e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to register
or for more information. At least one parent/guardian must accompany your child/children on all Young Naturalists activities.
Click here for more upcoming Young Naturalists Programs
Want more nature?
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 LSWR@sasktel.net 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.
The Saskatoon NatureKids Buzz is only a small sampling of nature and environment happenings. A great source of information is the EcoFriendly Sask. You can also subscribe to their weekly newsletter, EcoFriendly Sask News, and have a weekly round-up of every- thing environmental in Saskatchewan delivered right to your electronic mailbox. Plus check out their website for information on small grants for environmental projects.
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.
Check out these free events from
Wild Birds Unlimited
330A 2600 8th Street East
The Amazing World Of Falconry Sunday, July 22nd (6:30 – 8:00 p.m.)
The Peregrine Falcon is the fastest bird on earth. Lynn Oliphant has been training his 2018 brood of falcons and you’re invited to meet them. Lynn is professor emeritus from the Department of Veterinary Biomedical Sciences (Univ. of Sask.), founding member of the Prairie Institute for Human Ecology, Award-winning Environmentalist and raptor expert. Be at WILD BIRDS UNLIMITED Nature Shop at 6:30pm to drive to Lynn & Rhonda’s place (about 20 km). We will be carpooling for those interested. This is FREE to anyone interested.
When Sleeping Birds Fly: 365 Amazing Facts Aboiut the Animal Kingdom Wed. July 25th (6:00 – 8:00 p.m.)
Please join award-winning Saskatoon author Sally Meadows (MSc, BEd) for the launch of her new book ‘When Sleeping Birds Fly: 365 Amazing Facts About The Animal Kingdom’. With hands-on activities for kids ages 5-12, this event (and book) is perfect for anyone who enjoys amusing animal trivia. This is a come-and-go event with a short introduction at the beginning. As a former scientist, children’s entertainer (Sal the Science Gal, Nuts About Science! ), and educator, thousands of students have enjoyed and benefitted from Sally’s innovative programs that increase science literacy in fun and unique ways. Find out more about Sally at https://sallymeadows.com; sign up for her newsletter to keep up with all her latest news. A FREE event at Wild Birds Unlimited Nature Shop.