SIGNS OF LIFE accepted

If you've been keeping up with the latest updates regarding the upcoming City Nature Challenge, you might be aware of the call for nature enthusiasts, including Master Naturalists, bird watchers, youth groups, senior citizens, classrooms, to participate by sharing their nature photographs with the free iNaturalist app for your smartphone. The goal is to contribute to documenting the diverse habitat of the City of Saskatoon

One intriguing category worth exploring is "signs-of-life." This encompasses peculiar items—mysterious and less easily recognizable objects encountered during the quest for native wonders. These signs indicate the presence of life, leaving remnants like feathers, fur tufts, roadkill, bones, skeletons, partial skeletons, snake skins, teeth, insect prey in a spider web, spider webs, owl pellets, castings, turkey vulture or waterfowl regurgitation, insect frass or animal scat (poop) , bird or animal tracks, an empty or full chrysalis or cocoon, and more. It's an opportunity to unveil the less obvious aspects of the region's wildlife.

Owl pellets consist of undigested materials from the prey that owls consume, including feathers, teeth, fur, and some bones, mixed with the owl's digestive fluids. It's crucial to understand that owl pellets are distinct from scat; they are not processed through the owl's digestive system but rather regurgitated or expelled. Adult owls typically generate around two pellets per day, commonly found beneath their preferred roosting locations.

While the discovery of owl pellets can be fascinating, caution is recommended during handling. Experts suggest wearing gloves and employing protective measures, such as individually wrapping each pellet in aluminum foil. To eliminate potential bacteria, like E. coli and other harmful substances, the foil-wrapped pellets should be subjected to an oven set at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 40 minutes.

Owl pellets are not limited to owls alone; they are also prevalent among other birds of prey that consume their food whole, such as hawks and eagles. In the context of falconry, the term used for these expelled materials is "casting." Additionally, a variety of bird species, including grebes, herons, cormorants, gulls, terns, kingfishers, crows, jays, swallows, and most shorebirds, produce pellets.

Certain avian species, like Turkey Vultures, possess the ability to regurgitate undigested food as a defensive mechanism when they sense danger or feel threatened. This defensive behavior is also observed in herons, gulls, terns, and kestrels. Understanding these natural behaviors adds to a broader appreciation of the diverse adaptations exhibited by different bird species.

Feathers, too, are a valid entry. Remarkably, photos of feathers have led to the identification of Great Horned Owls, and Ospreys. Even scat photos can be revealing; last year's bobcat scat and this year's deer scat were identified through uploaded images.

A recent submission featured an intriguing green blob, suspected to be a spider egg sac. Including a perspective in photographs aids identifiers in gauging size. Practical advice for photographing peculiar subjects includes using a white card as a backdrop, ensuring sharpness, capturing various plant parts, and incorporating a ruler or recognizable object such as your hand or a coin for scale.

For successful identification, local identifiers recommend maintaining clarity, avoiding obscuring vegetation such as Smooth Brome grass, and providing multiple angles. They stress the importance of capturing details like foliage, blooms, stems, and other features. Learning basic phone editing can enhance submissions, while accessories like a wide-brimmed hat or adjustments to lighting can be handy during photography. These guidelines ensure that submissions not only showcase the beauty of nature but also facilitate accurate identification and documentation.

adapted from Peculiar oddities accepted during City Nature Challenge