A nature treasure hunt: Keeping an eye out on the Asquith North properties
About a year ago I came across a Facebook post about volunteering with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) as a property steward. My partner, John, and I are always looking for excuses to get out of the city and explore nature so this program seemed like it would be right up our alley. I got in touch with NCC and we got signed up. We “adopted” two neighbouring NCC properties near the town of Asquith, Saskatchecan — aptly, though perhaps not creatively, named “Asquith 1” and “Asquith 2”.
Although we intended to visit the properties often through that first winter, record snowfall in Saskatchewan made that difficult. The first time we visited the property we got our car stuck in a snowbank! Once the car was free we bundled up and took a quick look around. Although the snow was too deep to see much of the property on that first visit, I was quite taken with the landscape and excited for the next trip.
When spring arrived we had a chance to really get a good look at the Asquith properties. One of the most interesting things about the properties, especially Asquith 2, is the way the landscape changes as you travel through the properties. Access to Asquith 2 is by an unmaintained but passable road allowance. What's notable about this road is that it is hilly and very, very sandy. After parking at the gate, a short walk onto the actual property takes you through fairly dense trees and bushes where the sand dissipates and even disappears in places. Much of the property is covered by trees with cow paths zig zagging throughout. A large part of the middle of the property is covered by pasture and there are also ample wetland areas that were teeming with waterfowl in the spring and early summer.
I have enjoyed my visits to the property and have begun to treat them like a treasure hunt — I like to see if I can find and identify animals that I haven’t seen there before. The list of feathered creatures is getting very long, while the list of mammals, reptiles and amphibians is also growing. I also keep an eye out for any problems that should be reported to the NCC. The most exciting finds on the treasure hunt include the largest garter snake I have ever seen, and a palm warbler, which although not actually rare, was an exciting find for a birder friend who had not seen one yet that year.
Last fall, I was happy to play tour guide for members of NCC's Saskatchewan Regional board and staff on a visit to the property. I was pleased that a few of those folks shared their expertise and knowledge about some the flora and fauna on the property with me and the rest of the group.
The property is a winter wonderland and this year, despite the cold, we were able to visit and go for a snowshoe excursion. I hope that this summer I can expand my treasure hunt list and get to know the properties even better. I also intend to take a tent and spend a night to experience the property after dark. Perhaps I can add a few species of owls to my list!