Tuesday, June 19

Efforts to Preserve Burrowing Owl Habitat Pays Off

When Emile and Josie Tessier of Minton joined Operation Burrowing Owl in 1987 and set aside about 40 acres of native prairie a stone’s throw away from their house, they had a feeling this was the right thing to do.

“I grew up seeing the owls around in the hills,” says Emile Tessier. “I’ll never forget the way they looked at me with eyes on a head that just about turned around 360 degrees, perched on a post or standing on the small dirt pile right by the hole where they nested. I was amazed at their adaptation to the land — from a gopher hole widened by a badger hunting gophers, these beautiful creatures made their home.”

Tessier speaks fondly of the owls, like most of the 450 Operation Burrowing Owl participants who have kept their land from cultivation, to ensure the owls have a home. For the third year in a row they have reported an increase in the number of owls nesting on their land. In 2004, 52 of them reported 95 pairs, compared to 75 pairs reported by 44 landowners in 2003.

Kim Dohms is Operation Burrowing Owl’s Project Manager. “The trend is very encouraging. It makes us think that what we’ve been doing for 17 years is having an impact on the population, and it likely reflects what is happening elsewhere in North America. Without the landowners, of course, none of this would be possible.”

About half of the participants have been with the program for at least 15 years. On average, they make about 80 acres of land available, but in some cases, as much as a full section is allocated as habitat. Operation Burrowing Owl signs are provided, if desired, and certificates of recognition are issued. However, there is no financial compensation for this commitment. Dohms is quick to point out that the land need not be taken out of production to qualify for the program.
“Producers can still use the land for grazing. It seems cattle don’t bother the owls very much. Some landowners report owls flying in the face of cattle that come to close to their nest, to chase them away. Pretty much the only agricultural activity that cannot take place is cultivating the land. Key to success is the landowners’ commitment to staying with the program for many years, even if the owls don’t come back.”

Apparently, burrowing owl populations are still a long way from what they were: 10 per cent only of 1988 population figures. Dohms tells how every April, for participants and for her, “there is always a period of anxiety over whether the owls that nested last year will be back again. For those who didn’t have owls the previous year, the question in their mind is: are they coming?”
Emile Tessier has often asked that. After a number of years without owls, two pairs settled on his land two years ago. Then last year, a big break: to his amazement, four pairs established themselves.

“A combination of factors must have made this possible. There was no spraying in surrounding areas and there was good hunting. I could see skulls of mice everywhere in the area. When the technicians came to band the birds, it was a real treat to see how they went about catching the owls right in their nest.”

Tessier believes that it is a bit of a miracle that there are any owls left at all.
“They are nocturnal animals — therefore, they hunt at night. The pasture is about 300 feet away from Highway 6. They fly low and they tend to be blinded by oncoming traffic. Nature has put cars on their evolutionary path. They must contend with that now. With a bit of luck, the owls will stick around a while longer, for the next generations to appreciate them.”

Honeywood Nursery a Heritage Operation with Agritourism Appeal

Source: Honeywood Nursery

When Bert Porter established the Honeywood Nursery during the 1930s west of Shellbrook, he likely didn’t suspect he would one day become one of the most celebrated horticulturalists in North America.

The nursery is located on a quarter section about four miles south and one mile west of Parkside. It has operated for over 65 years. Before he passed away in 2000 at the age of 99, Porter had developed nearly 40 different strains of lilies marketed around the world.

In 1971, A.J. Porter received the E.H. Wilson Award, which is the highest award given by the North American Lily Society. A collection of his hybridized lilies was also awarded a Silver Medal at the Stuttgart Outdoor Garden Show.

After his death, the nursery faced potential obliteration until a group of local investors decided to acquire the property and operate it with the help of a dedicated group of volunteers.

David Moe is Chairman of the Board of Honeywood Nursery and one of the shareholders.

“Porter was born in Guilford, England, in 1901. He immigrated to Canada when he was six years old. He grew up on his parents’ farm in Parkside, where he became a schoolteacher. During the early years of the Depression, he struggled to support his family on the meager salary of a teacher. He left the profession and started selling nursery stock, including shrubs, flowers, fruit trees, etc., door to door. If customers were unable to pay for nursery stock when it arrived, he absorbed the loss and planted the stock at his farm.

“At the same time, he also started a market garden featuring strawberries and raspberries. It didn't take him long to realize that many of the varieties of fruit he was growing were not fully hardy for his region. This led to a lifelong pursuit of breeding to produce plants which would be high quality, disease resistant, and hardy for the prairies.”

Moe and his colleagues have inherited a true jewel, and they know it. The mission of Honeywood Heritage Nursery, as they see it, is to preserve, restore and operate it as a Parkside community heritage property. Naturally, this means exploring its tourism potential.

Ian McGilp is Industry Development Manager at Tourism Saskatchewan. He is simply in awe of the resource the nursery constitutes for the tourism industry.

“Many of the flowering crab-apple varieties, like Spring Snow, growing in the yards of residential districts in the province were developed at this place. It is one of those places in Saskatchewanthat is a hidden gem," says McGilp.

“There are different markets for its offerings. There are people who would be interested in seeing the beautiful orchards and flowers at different times of the growing season. In the spring, there are the blossoms. Of course, you have all the apple trees and different fruit trees blossoming. It is just beautiful. The early part of summer—in July—is when the lilies are in bloom, and there are all kinds of varieties of these lilies with all sorts of different colours. Some that are almost jet black in colour; others are pink, rosy and orange, of course, yellow and combinations of those colours.”

Incidentally, three of Bert Porter’s most popular lily introductions are the Earlibird, Happy Thoughts and Flaming Giant varieties. The Flaming Giant variety is known as Moulin Rouge in Holland. It is grown by the hundreds of acres for the cut flower trade.

As the summer unfolds at Honeywood Nursery, new attractions emerge, explains McGilp.

“Later on during the summer, when the fruit has grown and is ready to be picked, you can come and enjoy the preserves made from the fruit. It is fun also to see different kinds of fruit growing on the same tree, as well, because there are some apple trees on which different limbs were grafted which yield different types of apples. I have actually seen different kinds of apples growing on the same tree."

And then there are the fall colours that show up towards the end of September.

“It is a beautiful stop, less than a two-hour drive from Saskatoon, on paved roads all the way, which would be very interesting for people in particular attending conventions in Saskatoon to go through and visit, and lots of photographs and strolls through these groves of trees could be enjoyed," McGilp says.

“The diversity of trees is remarkable, as well. There are all sorts of tree varieties like oak, maple, Siberian larch and birch. I appreciate the greenery and diversity.”

Be sure to catch any of the events that take place at Honeywood Nursery every year. You won’t be disappointed.

For more information, contact:
David Moe
Chair of the Board
Honeywood Heritage Nursery
(306) 747-2275

Missouri Coteau Farm Doubles as Chipperfield Inn

The Missouri Coteau Escarpment is undoubtedly one of the most evocative landscapes in the province. It literally comes out of North Dakota, extends across Saskatchewan from the southeast to the northwest, and exits out to Alberta.

The Coteau Hills roll and spread—often as far as the eye can see—and agricultural producers are increasingly tapping into the rich heritage with which they are endowed as a means of diversifying their operations.

That is what Doug and Penny MacDonald had in mind when they launched the bed-and-breakfast they call the Chipperfield Inn a few years ago at their place.

“We farm about 18 miles west of Elrose. Between my brother and I, we farm about 4,500 acres. We could round it up to 5,000 acres with the pasture. We run a cow/calf operation with 60 Black Angus cows,” explains Doug MacDonald.

“Penny and I like entertaining. Our kids are grown and our house is plenty large. We have had some guests for upland bird or whitetail deer hunting, and others from as far away as England. Sometimes people come around and they need a place to stay. We are just happy to provide.”

One of the things that makes this place unique is Doug’s passion for blacksmithing.

“One of our good friends moved here from British Columbia. He happened to be a world-class blacksmith. I guess he inspired me. I have always enjoyed welding and working with steel. I took a course at the Western Development Museum (WDM) and built a fully equipped coal-fired forge at the farm,” he says.

“I just finished two sets of large flower pot hangers. I make candleholders, and made a candelabra type light fixture for the house. I have all the primitive tools, and I have been at it for 10 years now. This is something our guests are usually interested in.”

Above all, this is part of the heritage of the Great Plains region. MacDonald is grateful to the WDM for putting on these workshops.

"They bring in experts from the United States and Canada. It helps us ensure we don’t lose the traditions that helped our ancestors make it through the hardships they encountered in this part of the world when they first came."

And it helps provide sustenance today for the MacDonald family.

"We enjoy living on the farm. This is still the best place to raise a family. The bed-and-breakfast, our other activities and the farm income will help ensure that we can watch our kids and grandchildren grow and thrive, from this vantage point. It is a good life."

Waiting for the tide to come in at Skidegate, Haida Gwaii, BC

A quiet moment in Skidegate on Haida Gwaii. Every time the tide goes out, the beach offers opportunities to explore what has been left behind. The young Haida, the raven and the eagles in turn come out to play. In a place where every day brings opportunities for new discoveries, it is easy enough to spend an hour, or two or three just taking it all in, as we did on that beautiful summer day.

It's a Beautiful World... Saskatoon!

Here is a nice piece worth sharing from Tourism Saskatoon. The city's tourism community is really bringing out the local sense of place, the authenticity of the Great Plains tourism. This shows that beyond a CMO's meetings capacity, the local flavour also imparts a competitive advantage to a destination by adding value to the total package.