Nature is full of surprises

Discover something new at Ralph Wang Trail

Driving up to Ralph Wang Trail in southwestern Manitoba, the first thing visitors will notice is the prairie, decorated with a tall stand of cottonwoods beside a small creek. Depending on the time of year, the air is heavy with birdsong.

“You can often hear the gurgle of the creek and maybe, if there’s a little breeze, the leaves clapping,” says Josh Dillabough, natural area coordinator for the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC’s) Manitoba region. “In the spring, you can look down from to see prairie crocuses along the trail. In the summer, there’s dotted blazing star, and porcupine grass and big bluestem waving in the breeze.”

A new adventure

Josh works closely with this area, ensuring it is protected for now and into the future. Ralph Wang Trail is a place he knows well, but now and then he is still surprised by the nature he sees here.

“On one occasion, I arrived at the property and parked in my usual spot. I got out of the vehicle and walked maybe 10 steps, when I heard a raspy, buzzy sound,” Josh recalls. “Off to my left, maybe 20 metres away, on the fence, I saw a smallish bird. As it flitted closer, I heard the raspy buzz sound again. I sat down in the prairie and watched my first loggerhead shrike hunting for a meal.”

Loggerhead shrike is a very rare sight at Ralph Wang Trail. This area is home to many grassland birds, including nationally threatened Sprague’s pipit and chestnut-collared longspur. In Josh’s case, a few species in the area can sometimes be seen, but only by what they leave behind.

“The first summer we conducted a baseline inventory. We were walking in the area next to the river when an intern alerted us to some peculiar looking scat. Turns out, a black bear had left a big pile of his calling card next to the valley,” remembers Josh. “Another time, a pile of the biggest chocolate covered almonds you’ve ever seen was left by a moose in the same area. Normally you would associate these mammals with more forested areas, not prairies.”

A familiar friend

In his role with NCC, Josh has been fortunate to have explored all over Ralph Wang Trail. While he could wax poetic about every species and acre of this area, the southeast corner of the property is his favourite.

“Here, you can sit on the edge of the valley of the creek and take in the river and listen to it gurgle as it winds its way east. When you look over your shoulder, you’re at eye level with the native prairie,” he says.

“It makes you feel like you can transport in time 200 years ago, and you’re just waiting for a bison to roam by or to be chased by the grizzly bears that used to roam the prairies.”

Nature now and for the future

Growing up surrounded by nature and by humans who loved the outdoors, Josh was raised with the oral history of old family stories of memories made outdoors. From logging, hunting, maple sugar-making, hiking, camping and canoeing, the stories he heard and the experiences he had as a child helped foster his appreciation of Canada’s wild spaces, including his beloved Ralph Wang Trail.

“Nature is who I am. Some may call me a tree hugger, but I find all of nature just so fascinating. It’s one of the reasons I work at NCC. I say ‘get outside, explore your surroundings and see your planet Earth.’ After all, it’s all yours to discover.”

Eastern loggerhead shrike

Eastern loggerhead shrike is one of the fastest-declining bird species in North America and is considered endangered across Canada. This delicate looking bird, with its characteristic raccoon-like eye mask, hunts similarly to a bird of prey.

Species to Spot

– chestnut-collared longspur
– ferruginous hawk
– grasshopper sparrow
– Le Contse’s sparrow
– loggerhead shrike
– monarch
– moose
– mule deer
– sharp-tailed grouse
– Sprague’s pipit

Photo Credits (Top to bottom): NCC; NCC; Steve Zack; NCC; David Menke, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Cathy Shaluk; Rangeland Conservation Service.

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