Working in the field of wildlife conservation, it can sometimes feel like you can’t catch a break. It’s two steps forward, one step back.

But, there are also times when everything seems to line up, and it’s like the conservation stars have aligned. It could be the result of carefully planned methodology, and years of trail and error, like with our breeding success in the Oregon spotted breeding program. Or, it could just be plain luck.

Today we’re sharing two field stories where WPC staff came across a little bit of conservation luck!

A glimmer of hope

Tiffani Harrison, Native Pollinator Initiative Outreach & Field Biologist

I remember our first survey in 2021, we were surveying at the University of Guelph’s Arboretum. It was a quite gloomy and overcast day actually, but we were steadily catching bees on some very tall cherry trees that were in peak bloom at the time, requiring us to have our nets fully extended to about 12ft.

It had mostly been just 1-2 species we were seeing, the two spotted bumble bee, and common eastern bumble bee. It was coming to the last minutes left of the survey window, and I did something I do in the field sometimes where I “pray to the bee gods” to send me a special bee (usually the yellow-banded, which we bring back to our conservation breeding lab).

And then it happened. About 15m away several trees down, I saw her gleaming metallic yellow shine in the bit of sun we had. I knew instantly it was a yellow-banded bumble bee queen and I dashed down and swiped her out of the tree. Sure enough, I was right! Luck was on my side that day and we all went home with smiles on our faces, and a new queen recorded for our conservation surveys!

Count your lucky shrikes!

Hazel Wheeler, Conservation Programs Director

Back in 2013 when I was a fresh-faced field biologist monitoring the loggerhead shrikes on the Carden Alvar, there was one pair of shrikes that unfortunately lost their first nest during a cold snap in May. My team and I kept watching the territory, as shrikes will often renest nearby following an early nest failure, but the birds were elusive.

We’d see one here and there, but no sign of a second nest until one day in late June: I was out on the site, looking fruitlessly for any signs of the birds, when a juvenile sparrow flew across the field followed in hot pursuit by one of the adult shrikes! The sparrow was quickly overtaken in mid-air, and both birds dropped in to the grass. The shrike flew up to hover a foot or two off the ground then descend back to the grass once… twice… and the third time it appeared, it had the dead sparrow in its beak.

Wasting no time with its fresh meal, the adult flew directly to a tree where I could then see four juvenile loggerhead shrikes just starting to leave the nest. It was an unlucky day for the sparrow, to be sure, but an excellent day’s hunting for the shrikes, and a very lucky day for a field biologist trying to find a nest.

I’ve had many more field seasons since that one, and I’ve never again witnessed such a display of the amazing hunting prowess of loggerhead shrikes. Very lucky indeed!

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