A day in the field: Exploring The Grasses Nature Reserve
Notes from our staff
Grassy Place, Newfoundland and Labrador (Photo by Paul Grenier)
Written by Kathy Unger, NCC conservation assistant
In Canada, August is usually an assurance of short sleeves, outdoor swims, balmy nights and comfortable field work. I anticipated revelling in all of the above during my two-night trip into The Grasses, a remote, nearly 3,900-acre (1,578-hectare) nature reserve near the headwaters of Robinson’s River in southwest Newfoundland. But if variety is the spice of life, then Newfoundland should be one flavourful place for all its vigorous and ever-changing weather.
My colleague Megan and I set out on our trek into The Grasses with warnings of mist, rain and near-hurricane winds. We didn’t have the flexibility to postpone our trip — we had to go ahead as scheduled if we wanted to monitor The Grasses this year. I must admit that, even as seasoned field biologists, it was tough to face the prospect of days of wet gear, cool temperatures and fitful windy nights in a tent. Megan and I promised each other to be extra vigilant to hazards and our safety; we would turn back the moment either of us felt unsafe. What I can say now, from the warmth of my office and comfort of my cushioned desk chair, is that the challenging conditions we endured were well worth the incredible rewards.
Imagine imposing mountains crowned with yellows, browns and greys of expansive barren lands. Nestled between these slopes is a vibrant green valley, brimming with two-metre-tall grasses, for which the area is named. We covered a lot of ground along the valley and even found the energy to ascend onto one of the mountain summits. From the top we could see all the eccentric bends and twists of the Robinson’s River and even some grazing moose in the valley below. In one day, we saw 11 moose (that is not a typo!), one coyote having a meal of a moose carcass on a riverbed, one bald eagle, one blue heron and a northern harrier. We were also well aware that black bears, caribou and pine marten could be roving nearby.
As we surveyed the far reaches of the property and recorded our observations, I felt proud to have a small role in the conservation of such an exceptional corner of the earth and lucky to be experiencing it first-hand. The property signs mounted throughout the area declare the property to be a Natural Area owned and managed for conservation, and for good reason. The Grasses reserve contains some of the most extensive natural grasslands in the province and is home to an astounding array of wildlife.
I’ve read that early settlers may have once persuaded their sheep herds into the lush, grassy valley. Today only moose and caribou graze in this incredible NCC-owned and protected area. It is the type of place that, even on the greyest and mistiest of days, can warm your imagination and take your breath away.