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About Our Property
Our property consists of 480 acres (192 ha) of marginal agricultural land, aspen forest and ponds. There are about 180 acres (71 ha) of alfalfa/hay fields and unused pastures. Approximately 150 acres (63 ha) are covered by an ungrazed forest of trembling aspen, balsam poplar and white birch with an understory of hazelnut and other wood land shrubs and plants. The remainder is made up of many wetlands, including a single pond that currently covers 140 acres (57 ha). These features combine to provide habitats for a wide variety of animals, birds, plants and insects.
The property is in the Tiger Hills Upland on the southern edge of the Boreal Transition Ecoregion of Saskatchewan. The terrain is a series of abrupt hills and depressions (knobs and kettles), typical of glacial hummocky moraines, surrounded by more level arable areas of land. A thin layer of organic top soil covers thick deposits of unsorted glacial till with pockets of gray loam, clay and gravel. Rocks and large boulders are abundant. The numerous lakes and ponds of the region are important staging and breeding areas for many waterfowl and shorebird species. There are also a number of rivers and streams that are part of the Carrot River Watershed.
We participate in Wildlife Tomorrow (Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation) and Stewards of Saskatchewan (Nature Saskatchewan) habitat conservation programs. Habitat loss in this area, and throughout the agricultural region of Saskatchewan, is a major threat to populations of wildlife, birds and native plant species. European settlers began arriving in the area about 1900 and started clearing land for agriculture. This practice continues to the present day and now about 80% of the land in the municipality is under some form of cultivation. Most forest remaining is used for grazing cattle and often it is overgrazed which eliminates the undergrowth and leaves behind old trees and a denuded forest floor invaded by grasses. To further increase croplands large numbers of wetlands have been drained or filled. This has resulted in significant habitat reductions for many animals and birds especially waterfowl, shorebirds and songbirds that use wetlands for nesting and rely on emergences of aquatic insects for food at critical times during their life cycles.
Research At Our Property
Species At Risk:
Our surveys have recorded three birds (barn swallow, horned grebe, common nighhawk), two mammals (little brown bat, American badger), an amphibian (tiger salamander) and a butterfly (monarch butterfly) listed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) as species of concern. Striped coral-root orchids also occur in good numbers. This species is considered provincially rare and vulnerable (SKCDC S2S3).
Native Plant Seed Collection:
As part of a plant survey conducted by Dr. R. St. Pierre, thirty-seven native plant seed samples were prepared and deposited in Canada's national seed bank (Plant Gene Resources of Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada).
Feral Boar Monitoring:
Feral wild boar are becoming an increasing threat in the province to agriculture and wildlife. We have recorded wild boar on a number of occasions at the property. This information is forwarded to the Wildlife Ecology & Community Engagement Lab (WECE)Wild Hog Watch to add to their distribution information on this invasive species.
A rich diversity of native plants and animals is a corner stone of ecosystem health that provides stability from the impacts of human developments and extraordinary natural events. Due to its location our land has faunal and floral elements from the boreal forests, aspen parklands and grass lands. We are conducting surveys to document the species inhabiting the property. The data generated from these surveys are used to study community structure and function, supplement provincial taxonomic and biogeographical information and investigate impacts of land use, climate change and invasive species on the ecosystem. To date almost 700 species have been recorded and many more species are likely to be found based on their known provincial distributions and habitat requirements.
Mammals, Reptiles and Amphibians:
The combination of aspen forest, tree-lined fences, pastures, crop/hay fields and abundant ponds and wetlands provide habitats for a rich diversity of animals in and around the property. White-tailed deer are common in the area. It appears the recessive gene for piebald colour pattern is present in the population. Mule deer also occur in the area. Elk and moose are regularly seen in the fields. Coyotes are heard almost daily but seen only rarely. We have encountered rabbits, skunks, raccoons, weasels, fisher, martens and river otters. Least chipmunks and red squirrels are common in the forest. Pocket gophers, ground squirrels and a host of mice, voles and shrews can be found throughout the property. Beaver have lodges on the deeper ponds. Muskrats inhabit all the more permanent ponds. Bats are frequently seen during the summer evenings flying over the pond or open areas. Lynx and black bear have been recorded and there is anectodal information that wolves and cougar occasionally move through the area.
Wood frogs and chorus frogs are extremely abundant in and around the many wetlands in the spring. Large populations of tiger salamanders breed in the more permanent ponds and migrate in numbers into the forest in the autumn. Garter snakes are also very common throughout the property suggesting there are a number of hibernacula present.
The sedge and willow ringed ponds of the property provide nesting and feeding habitats for a host of ducks, gulls, terns, grebes and other bird species. The main pond has a number of cattail and bulrush beds and three islands that provide additional nesting and roosting areas. Active and vacant beaver lodges usually have a Canada goose nest on each. The exposed shore lines and drawdowns around the ponds provide good feeding habitats for shorebirds. Large emergences of aquatic insects from the ponds provide a rich menu for passerines and waterfowl. Fathead minnows and 5-spined sticklebacks in the largest ponds attract double crested cormorants, pelicans and kingfishers. Great blue herons are seen daily through the breeding season wading in the shallows.
The combination of large trees, undergrowth and shrubs attract a variety of passerines to the property during migration and to nest. A diversity of sparrow and warbler species along with rosebreasted grosbeaks, baltimore orioles, goldfinches, hummingbirds and catbirds are common. Many of the larger aspen and poplar trees have "woodpecker holes" in them made by the various woodpeckers, including pileated woodpeckers. These holes are suitable for other cavity nesting birds including the great crested flycatcher and bufflehead ducks. Old farm buildings provide additional nesting sites for barn swallows and eastern phoebes. Open areas along the treelines are patrolled by flycatchers and swallows for flying insects. During summer evenings nighthawks can be seen hunting for similar prey. Great horned owls are permanent residents of the area as are ravens, white breasted and red breasted nuthatches, black capped chickadees and ruffed grouse. The grouse are heard drumming throughout the spring and are regularly encountered along the trails during all seasons.
Sparsely vegetated hills in the fields are habitat for ground nesting birds such as killdeers. The low vegetation of overgrown pastures and fields are suitable for birds like the clay-coloured sparrow to nest and feed. Duck nests in these areas are also common for those species which prefer nesting away from wetlands.
Birds of prey, from red-tailed hawks to kestrels, frequent the property searching for food and to nest. Bald eagles and Northern shrikes also make regular appearances. Vultures are often seen during the breeding and migration seasons. Occasionally a pair will nest in an old building at the derelict farm yard. We have observed tagged vultures on a number of instances in 2014 and again in 2015. AIK was tagged as about a 60 day old nestling near Spring Park, AB in August 2011. Another tagged vulture, S71 (white text on green background), was seen a few times in 2015. Records indicate it was banded in 2009 by Dr. S. Houston and crew as a nestling within 30 km of the property.
Aquatic Macroinvertebrates and Fish:
A focal point of our property is the series of ponds and wetlands that range from the 140 acre pond to smaller semipermanent ponds with wet phases lasting a few years and vernal temporary pools that last just a few weeks in the spring. Some of the more permanent ponds will be aestival (freezing to the bottom during winter) while others are deep enough that they do not freeze entirely.
The variety of ponds and wetlands on the property provide habitats for a number of animals, birds and plants as well as a rich fauna of aquatic macroinvertebrates. It is expected that over 130 species of aquatic insects will be recorded. Aquatic insects form an important link between the productivity of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Mass emergences of adult mosquitoes, midges, mayflies, dragonflies, damselflies and caddisflies provide significant food pulses for waterfowl and other insect feeding birds. Snails, leeches and amphipods are also important components of the aquatic food web and serve as food for many species.
A temporary stream is present on the property but it does not last long enough to develop a true running water macroinvertebrate community.
After extensive flooding in 2010/2011 fathead minnows and five-spined sticklebacks were observed in great abundance in the main pond adding a link to the aquatic food web. These fish attracted cormorants, pelicans, kingfishers, herons and other birds to the property for a number of years.
The varied plant communities and microhabitats found on the property provide opportunities for an enormous diversity of terrestrial insects. The most showy are the butterflies including numerous Canadian Tiger Swallowtails and, occasionally, Monarchs. Sphinx moths have also been observed. Large ant hills are plentiful in many areas. The dry, clay, sparsely vegetated hills in the fields provide microhabitats for such insects as tiger beetles in contrast to the moist wetland margins and shaded aspen forests fulfulling habitat requirements for many species.
Spiders, Ticks and Mites:
Spiders are very common throughout the property and undoubtedly diverse due to the variety of microhabitats available, including old derelict buildings and vehicles, dense aspen forest, open grassy meadows and wetland margins. It is possible 40 or more species could be present based on preliminary indications. The American dog tick is regularly "collected" during spring and early summer walks.
The aspen forest is one of the focal points of the property. This forest has not been grazed for decades thus allowing the various tree species and understory shrubs and plants time to regenerate. The many acres of alfafa/hay fields and unused pastures have introduced some non-native species (ie timothy, kentucky blue grass, clover, alfalfa, tansy, Canada thistle) to the property. But the fields have also allowed a number of native species to flourish that require open areas. Most of the ponds of the property are ringed by willows, cattails and sedges. The water and saturated wetlands provide further habitats for a wide variety of aquatic and semiaquatic plants to live.
Special thanks to Dr. R. St. Pierre for conducting a plant survey of the property. He also collected seed samples from 37 native plant species found growing on the property. These samples were placed in Canada's national seed bank (Plant Gene Resources of Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada) for long-term safekeeping. Species of note found during the survey include, Indian-pipe (Monotropa uniflora), Striped Coral-root Orchid (Corrallorhiza striata) and Fairybells (Disporum trachycaulum); the populations of the latter two species are relatively significant in size. Another orchid, the Bracted Bog Orchid (Platanthera viridis) has also been found and the Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium calceolus) likely occurs. A mutated clone of Canada anemone (Anemone canadensis) has been discovered on the property.
Fungi, Lichens, Horsetails, Mosses and Liverworts:
The aging and fallen aspen, balsam poplar and birch trees of the property provide excellent substrates for a wide variety of fungi to develop. Many lichen species also use these trees for substrates. Similarly the trunk bases and shaded, moist areas in the forest enable mosses to flourish. Draw downs around the ponds and along the stream provide suitable habitats for horsetails to grow. The exposed soil and rocks of the fields host soil and lithophilic lichens.