A Day in the Life of a Field Ecologist by Brittany Jackson

Early morning at the project site.

Each day starts with a fresh cup of coffee and an early morning drive to the project location somewhere within the Vermilion River Watershed. Upon arrival, a safety briefing identifies any hazards we might run into throughout the day including livestock or other wildlife, barbed or electric fences, uneven ground, and open water.
 
With funding from both the provincial and federal government, the North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance (NSWA) and the Vermilion River Watershed Alliance (VRWA) are working with landowners to either enhance or restore wetlands and/ or riparian areas on their property.
(check out this video to learn more)
 
As part of the project, the vegetation and the ecosystem health are assessed, both before and after the project work has been completed.
Duck Nest on sitePelican
 
Duck nest and pelican on site
 
With our rubber boots on and our field guides in tow, we start the assessment. First we walk around the entire site. This allows us to observe the general vegetation and any physical disturbances. We record any wildlife sightings or signs (eg. calls, prints, scat, nests) and take note of anything that stands out. Livestock, dugouts, bare ground patches, and trails usually make the list. Berry patches and uncommon wildflowers are also noteworthy.
 
Once we complete the general site observations, we start the vegetation surveys. Each survey contains one to five vegetation quadrats (one-meter by one-meter square). Both the number of quadrats and the number of surveys per site is determined by the complexity in vegetation at the site. For example, a project located in the middle of a canola field might only require one survey containing one quadrat, while a project located on a large wetland with native pasture and treed portions may require four surveys, each containing two quadrats.
 
Within each quadrat, we record what species are present, group them into general categories (shrubs, forbs, grasses, and invasive species) and estimate the percent of each category present. Any plants not easily recognized are identified using one of our many field guides. These vegetation surveys allow us to get a more detailed view of the vegetation present on the project site, which helps us to determine the health of the ecosystem and identify ways in which the system can be improved.
 
 
Wild Bergamot and Saskatoon Berries on site