The following informationis from our presenters in conversation with writer (and YFBTA member) Kathy Morrell.    

Dragonflies – David Halstead

Around a campfire, a family gathers to practise that Saskatchewan summer tradition, roasting marshmallows into a burnt gooey sticky mess.  Darkness is closing in and with the twilight comes the dreaded buzz of the mosquito and then, out of nowhere, the moving presence of something else, something so silent that it startles the children almost to the point of fear.  Arms wave to bat off the threatening menace.  Little voices cry out – what are those things?  The answer is of course – they’re Dragonflies.


Indeed, the Dragonfly and its relative, the Damselfly, are nature’s gifts to summer.  The insects devour hordes of mosquitoes, deer flies and black flies, the enemies of a warm summer evening around the campfire.


Despite our well-deserved affection for the Dragonfly, we know very little about the insect.  David Halstead, speaker at the YFBTA Symposium, will fill in that information gap. He promises to talk about the natural history, biology and behaviour of both the Dragonfly and the Damselfly.  In addition, he will show his audience how to net the insects and how to catch their beauty through photography.


Halstead is an aquatic biologist and entomologist.  He and Gord Hutchings have co-written Dragonflies and Damselflies in the Hand, a book whose photography captures their stunning beauty.


This publication, made possible by Nature Saskatchewan, is proof of Halstead’s lifelong interest in the field of entomology, an interest that stems from childhood explorations in the foothills of Alberta and the Interlake regions of Manitoba. He now resides at Emma Lake, where he continues his quest to unravel the mysteries of these incredible insects.



Tool and Tips for the Intermediate Birder – Don Weidl


“Birding has gone high-tech,” Don Weidl said.  “Birders can download apps on to their cell phones to make identification easier and faster.”  Usually, the apps include photos, audio of the bird’s song and comparisons with similar species.  The programs even allow for instant conversation with members of birding groups.

“Use your camera or your phone camera,” he also suggested.  “When it comes to identification, a poor picture is better than no picture.  If you have a photo, you can always talk ‘bird ID’ with a fellow birder. Cell phone video might be useful, too, because it can record the bird in flight or perhaps its call or song.”


Birders have a lot of knowledge about the birds of their area, information they are only too willing to share with their friends.


“However,” Weidl continued, “people often don’t want to enter the data they’ve collected on birding websites.  I’m going to encourage that they to do that.  Their data is useful.”


Weidl emphasized, however, that the most important tip to identification is still using your eyes and ears.  Note the colour, shape, size and behaviour of the species.  Listen for its song.  Use your binoculars and your field guide.  These were the basics when Weidl was a child and they haven’t changed.


“There is nothing better than a friend and mentor to help you learn about the natural world,” Weidl said.


When he was ten or eleven, Manley Collin introduced a young Don Weidl to the natural environment around Broadview and in the Pipestone and Qu’Appelle Valleys.  That childhood fascination with nature led him to study renewable resources and then to establish his own environmental consulting business.


With his retirement, Weidl has returned to the Broadview home where he grew up and his childhood fascination with nature.  He brings that life-long enthusiasm to his presentation at the YFBTA Symposium.


Weidl’s talk at the YFBTA Symposium will offer tips for everyone interested in birding, (including) the differences between the Downy Woodpecker and the Hairy Woodpecker. 




Reading the Rings – Colin Laroque


Trees tell a story. In fact, trees tell many stories.  That is the message of Colin Laroque, the after-dinner speaker at the YFBTA Symposium.


His first story is a good old-fashioned mystery.  What was the climate like when the settlers established their homesteads? Was it warmer or colder than it is now? Was there more rain or less? What do we know about the climate decades later?


The tree rings answer the questions.  From 1940 to 1960, the rings spin a tale of rain. Eighty years earlier when the land was being settled, they spoke of drought.  By looking at the rings, the growth of light and dark wood over the season, the scientist can determine the climate pattern over decades. Their study is called dendroclimatology – dendro meaning trees and climatology meaning the study of climate.


Laroque’s second tree story is a “searing” drama. Wood scarring indicates the year a fire went through.  Repeated scarring indicates a high incidence of fire and of course, forest fires tell us much about climate and the role of fire in the ecosystem.


Pollution is another of his tree stories, this time a tragic one.  Trees growing in the area of the oil sands, for example, take in chemicals with the water and air they need.  Testing the wood can be an indication of pollution from extraction.


Tree rings have also told stories of a long ago past.  Laroque was involved in a study of a hand railing from a ship.  The question was whether the railing had come from the Lusitania or the Titanic.  The research, like a CSI story, used science to figure out the answer and in this case, the railing came from the Titanic.


Laroque calls himself a librarian, a dendroclimatologist who can take a book about tree rings from the shelf and tell a great many different stories – climate, forest fire, pollution, archaeology and many more.  For the Symposium, he is still choosing which tales to tell from his extensive collection.




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