Pileated Woodpecker in Gabriel Dumont Park Meewasin

Woodpeckers: Loud, Colorful, and Sometimes Surprisingly Big

There are seemingly endless array of animals to spot in the Meewasin Valley. Old friends like beaver, muskrat, and porcupines always seem to be hanging around. And in some parts of the valley, it’s hard to take a step without spotting a Leask Chipmunk or a squirrel.

While it’s always a treat to see any wildlife in the Valley, some just really stick out in the best possible way, like woodpeckers. You often hear them before you see them thanks to their constant knocking of holes in trees. Occasionally, they even show up in an extra-large size that is quite striking.

As always when looking for wildlife, there are a few things you should always keep in mind.

      • Be realistic. There are no guarantees in wildlife spotting and the animals you’re looking for may not be around.
      • Be respectful. This goes for the land, the other people around you, and especially the wildlife. It also means packing your trash out and not picking up “souvenirs” from the environment. Take a pic, don’t pick.
      • Be sensible. Keep a safe distance away from any and all wildlife.

Worldwide Woodpeckers

A Downy Woodpecker takes a break in Beaver Creek Meewasin
A Downy Woodpecker takes a break in Beaver Creek

There are more than two hundred species of woodpeckers found in different parts of the world, approximately 12 of which call Saskatchewan home. Most commonly, they’re spotted pecking away at the sides of trees in their search for food. They use their pointed beaks to take the bark off trees, then mine for insects underneath.

But that’s not the only reason for that practice. Woodpeckers often live in dead trees, creating holes inside of them for shelter. And during mating season, the loud sound of them knocking on the sides of trees is far more pronounced as it becomes a mating call.

The most common, or at least best known, woodpecker in the province is the Northern Flicker. While it can be spotted clinging to the sides of trees, it’s most often spotted on the ground eating ants. Because the Northern Flicker is predominantly a ground-feeder, some people don’t realize they’re looking at a species of woodpecker.

RELATED: Meewasin Reports Progress with State of the Valley Report

Downy Woodpecker

The Downy Woodpecker is certainly a familiar and welcome site in and around Saskatoon. They pop up at backyard bird feeders with some frequency and are definitely regular residents of the Meewasin Valley. That includes more than a few sightings out at Beaver Creek.

A relatively small species of woodpecker, the Downy actually flocks up with other birds in winter for warmth and protection. Throwing another wrench into their sneaky behavior is the fact that they’ve even been spotted drinking from hummingbird feeders on occasion. Tricky.

Hairy Woodpecker

A Hairy Woodpecker sits on a tree in Victoria Park Meewasin
A Hairy Woodpecker sits on a tree in Victoria Park

It can be quite easy to confuse the Downy with its cousin, the Hairy Woodpecker. The key difference is that the Hairy is quite a bit bigger than the Downy, though no less fascinating and adorable.

The Hairy Woodpecker has a much longer bill that can be described as “chisel-like.” It can also be found all around the Meewasin Valley, pecking at a variety of trees. That includes a few sightings right outside Meewasin’s downtown Saskatoon offices on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River or in nearby Victoria Park.

Pileated Woodpecker

When it comes to woodpeckers, it’s fair to say that this is the big one. Literally. Pileated Woodpeckers are nearly the size of a crow, which absolutely dwarfs any of its local relatives. It’s a huge bird with a beautiful red crest that takes chunks out of the sides of trees.

They can be found in various parts of Saskatchewan, including in and around the Meewasin Valley. Still, it’s a rarity to see one in person. A recent sighting found a Pileated Woodpecker just off the Meewasin Trail south of Gabriel Dumont Park.

NEXT: Check out different locations around the Meewasin Valley

Blue Skies over Meewasin Beaver Creek

Experience Fall at Beaver Creek Conservation Area

Migratory birds, hungry chickadees, and turning leaves make September one of the most magical times to visit Beaver Creek. With a series of four hiking trails to explore by foot, the site offers a number of ways to experience it.

Summer Wildflowers at Meewasin Beaver CreekCurrently, we are saying goodbye to the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds who were banded on site this summer by Ron Jensen and Meewasin staff. At the same time, we’re welcoming back the Sandhill Cranes who pass through as they migrate further south for the winter.

And a special thanks goes to Wild Birds Unlimited who provided feeders in support of our hummingbird banding program this summer!

This is the time of year the Black-capped Chickadees become even more curious as they begin to store seeds for the upcoming winter months. Seeds are handed out at the Interpretive Centre and are available by donation; please don’t bring other seed on site.

Although adorable, the ground squirrels and chipmunks do not need to be fed. This keeps everyone involved safe, particularly those precious little mooches. Trust us. They can handle their own business quite effectively.

What to know before you go

Some COVID-19 precautions are still in effect. Meewasin continues to have a capacity restriction and limited access to facilities at Beaver Creek . This provides a better and safer experience for our visitors and helps us to manage the pressure on this special conservation area.

Beaver Creek runs through the Meewasin Conservation Area

Meewasin requires the use of masks to access the washrooms in our Interpretive Centre. Meewasin works with children under 12 at Beaver Creek as regular visitors to our site and during our school programs. As this age group is not yet eligible for vaccination, masks continue to be an important tool to help us prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Until the children we serve are able to be vaccinated, Meewasin’s team members will wear masks in the Interpretive Centre and any time we are working with children. Members of the public wishing to use our washroom facilities must wear a mask to enter the building.

Thank-you for helping keep our staff and our youngest visitors safe!

Practice Good Stewardship While Adventuring

      • Take a pic, don’t pick! Although tempting to take a memento, a picture lasts longer and doesn’t impact sensitive habitats.
      • Stay on the marked trails. Help protect the plants and wildlife that call this place home.
      • The trails are for hiking only. No dogs or bikes are permitted on site.
      • Pack-it-in and pack-it-out. Please keep litter out of this special place.
      • Pack a water bottle. There is no potable water on site.

Beaver Creek is open from 10 AM to 5 PM, Wednesday through Sunday.

Questions? Contact Beaver Creek at 306-374-2474.

A Sandhill Crane flies above Beaver Creek Meewasin

Sandhill Cranes, Great Blue Herons, and Even Whooping Cranes Stop by Beaver Creek

Fall migration is a marvelous time to be a birder. Numerous species that aren’t normally hanging around Saskatoon and area pop up on their way to their winter homes. And Beaver Creek Conservation Area often finds itself right in the middle of things.

This protected natural region provides a perfect stopover for several incredible species. Sandhill Cranes, Great Blue Herons, and even the occasional Whooping Crane have been viewed there, making this a prime destination for local bird watchers.

If you do decide to come out to Beaver Creek and try to spot these beautiful creatures, there are a few things to keep in mind.

      • Be realistic. There are no guarantees in wildlife spotting and the animals you’re looking for may not be around.
      • Be respectful. This goes for the land, the other people around you, and especially the wildlife. It also means packing your trash out and not picking up “souvenirs” from the environment. Take a pic, don’t pick.
      • Be sensible. Keep a safe distance away from any and all wildlife.

Sandhill Cranes

A flock of Sandhill Cranes flies above Beaver Creek MeewasinDuring this time of year, hundreds of thousands of these magnificent birds are on the move across North America. Since they aren’t normally in such massive numbers around Beaver Creek and Saskatoon, seeing them during migration is always a treat.

A Sandhill Crane’s combination of a wingspan that can be up to 2.3 meters, their long, pointed bills, and their distinctive call certainly help them stand out. They can be spotted in the fields around Beaver Creek, in the conservation area itself, and flying overhead.

A Great Blue Heron stands by the South Saskatchewan River Beaver Creek Meewasin

Great Blue Herons

One of the biggest wading birds spotted throughout North America on shores and in wetlands is the Great Blue Heron. They also pop up in the Galapagos Islands, though if you’re not heading that way Beaver Creek is almost as impressive.

Thanks to the creek which winds through the Conservation Area as well as the nearby South Saskatchewan River, Great Blue Herons appear here with some frequency, particularly during migration. They are impressive to see every time.

Whooping Cranes

Calling the sound a Whooping Crane makes distinctive is an understatement. They sure didn’t get their name by accident. These large and stunningly white birds definitely pop in most environments, though their critically low numbers mean sightings are rare.

The chances of seeing one at Beaver Creek are low. At the same time, they have been known to migrate with the Sandhill Cranes. There have been a few people over the years who have spotted them nearby, so you never know what you’ll see if you keep your eyes peeled.

The Prescribed Fire Exchange Continues to Grow!

Prescribed fire in use at the Meewasin Northeast Swale

Years of fire suppression leave the Prairies in a fire deficit, resulting in uncontrollable fuel buildups, intense and widespread fires, and a fear of what fire is capable of. But fire is a natural process that also renews life and is vital to managing healthy ecosystems.

While fire deserves our respect, prescribed fires can be used to make urban areas safer, create wildlife habitat that fights off invasive weeds, and preserve rangelands. Most importantly, it can be planned and executed in a manner that ensures a safe perimeter, has emergency resources on site, and will not be lit unless the perfect predetermined conditions exist.

Unlike wildfires that blanket our city in smoke for weeks at a time, prescribed fires allow us to plan for wind and weather conditions that minimize the presence of smoke in nearby communities. Selecting and following a prescribed fire plan, including wind speed, direction, relative humidity, and temperature, is key to removing built up fuels and allows ignition teams to wait for the weather window that will release the least amount of smoke, for the shortest amount of time.

That’s where Meewasin and the CPPFE come in

The Canadian Prairies Prescribed Fire Exchange is an inter-agency collective established to increase capacity for knowledge sharing and training surrounding the use of prescribed fire. Specifically, it advocates for its use as a management tool in Canadian prairie and parkland ecosystems.

At the same time, this organization exists to promote the safe, responsible use of prescribed fires, not to implement them.

In August, the CPPFE partnered with Meewasin to host the second Introduction to Prescribed Fire in the Grassland Environment course along with the first Landowner Workshop to the Association of Manitoba Community Pastures. Events like these are important steps in adding prescribed fire to our collective toolkits correctly.

Want to know more about prescribed fires?

Prescribed fire used in conservation at the Meewasin Northeast Swale

If you’re looking for a little knowledge, Meewasin has produced a short video featuring Renny Grilz, our Resource Management Officer. He explains what prescribed fire is, why Meewasin uses it, and how it’s implemented safely.

Always remember that prescribed fire is only to be used under very specific conditions by trained, experienced professionals. Whether you’re new to prescribed fire or have been using it for years, we encourage you to join us for some of our training events.

Please do not attempt anything you see in the following video at home, at work, or anywhere without the supervision of someone with experience and training. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the Canadian Prairies Prescribed Fire Exchange.

Check out Meewasin’s prescribed fire video.

Check out the Canadian Prairies Prescribed Fire Exchange.

Check out the City of Saskatoon’s Prescribed Fire Program.

Sheep get ready to graze at Beaver Creek Meewasin

Sheep Grazing Demonstrations are BACK this Fall!

Click to see our Calendar for a full list of dates/times/locations.

Register here to join us in the Northeast Swale.

Register here to join us at the Beaver Creek Conservation Area.

Join us in watching and exploring targeted sheep grazing for conservation through free demonstrations!

Meewasin has been a provincial and national leader in using targeted conservation grazing with small ruminants, including sheep, to manage conservation lands in urban and semi-urban landscapes for over 17 years!

 

Sheep grazing at Beaver Creek MeewasinAnd this year, the sheep are baaah-ck!

Shepherd Jared Epp and his flock will be working with Meewasin for a total of 15 days from early September to mid-October at both the Northeast Swale and the Beaver Creek Conservation Area, offering FREE demonstrations to the public two times per day. These demonstrations are made possible with partial funding from the RBC Tech for Nature Fund!

These Demos are completely FREE! (Donations are welcome!)​​

Register and choose a FREE ticket or a ticket by Donation.

Tickets to register at either the Northeast Swale or Beaver Creek are online now, and you can join us through the Fall Season on selected dates. But hurry! These spots will fill up fast. 

Dates & Locations are up on our calendar.

The RBC Tech for Nature Fund

Meewasin wouldn’t be able to provide these efforts if it wasn’t for the financial support from the Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Habitat Stewardship program.

A huge thank you this year to the RBC Tech for Nature Fund for supporting this special and important project.

Jared Epp with his herding dog at Beaver Creek MeewasinMeet Shepherd Jared Epp, his sheep, and his dogs

Meewasin’s conservation grazing program encourages the public to participate in grazing demonstrations as provided by Shepherd Jared Epp and his dogs.

Jared works with the Meewasin Resource Management team, educating children and adults on grazing ecology, the relationship between predator and prey, the grazing history of the prairies, the species targeted for grazing, and how to get the sheep to eat them.

 

Click to see our Calendar for a full list of dates/times/locations.

Register here to join us in the Northeast Swale.

Register here to join us at the Beaver Creek Conservation Area.

Naughty by Nature at Beaver Creek by Meewasin

Naughty By Nature – New Dates Added!

An Adult-Only Tour at Beaver Creek Conservation Area

Charcuterie board for Naughty by Nature at Beaver Creek by MeewasinWe’d never offered an experience quite like Naughty by Nature before 2021. This adult-only program was launched this summer and it was an absolute hit! We sold out every single night and had a long waitlist to boot.

Now, Meewasin has decided to extend this new experience into the fall!

Did you miss your chance to join us for Naughty by Nature? It’s not too late! We’re happy to announce this exciting opportunity will be extended to every Thursday night through September. Take in the autumn magic of Beaver Creek with exclusive after-hours access. Enjoy a tour filled with hilarious facts, group games, and fun, a custom cocktail-making kit with local ingredients, and a charcuterie box with your choice of drink. Plus, the beautiful fall foliage and migrating birds will only enhance the evening.

You must be at least 19 years old to attend. Register for any of these dates at the following link: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/naughty-by-nature-new-dates-added-tickets-161542374591

    • September 9th – 5:30pm to 8:30pm
    • September 16th – 5:30pm to 8:30pm
    • September 23rd – 5:30pm to 8:30pm

But don’t wait too long as space is limited and booking up quickly.

Tricks for Dealing with Ticks – Beaver Creek Tick Research

Ticks are a commonly feared insect for the fact that they can carry diseases such as Lyme disease. Researchers Dr Maarten J. Voordouw, and others from the University of Saskatchewan and University of Regina conducted research about ticks at Beaver Creek Conservation Area. Their research included documenting different environmental factors to try to determine which areas ticks thrive in the most.

The Study Method and Technique

An American dog tick found in the Meewasin Valley

On June 26th, 2020, the group of researchers from the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Regina went sampling for ticks at Beaver Creek Conservation Area. The day was sunny and due to the Conservation Area’s temporary closure, the trails were devoid of visitors. To standard way to capture ticks is the dragging technique, which involves pulling a white flag attached to a dowel over the vegetation. Ticks are sit-and-wait predators that climb up the vegetation and wait with outstretched legs to grapple onto a passing host. The moving flag simulates a host and the dark-coloured ticks are easy to spot against the white background.

What’s the Purpose of the Study?

The point of the study is to look for the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis), which can transmit Lyme disease. However, as this tick species is not very common in Saskatchewan, trying to find it is like looking for a needle in a haystack. In contrast, the researchers had no problems finding the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), which is by far the most common tick species in Saskatchewan. More than 95% of all tick bites in the province of Saskatchewan involve this tick species, which is not competent to transmit Lyme disease. In the USA, American dog ticks are known to transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia, but previous research has shown that the risk of these tick-borne diseases in Saskatchewan is low (for reasons that are not entirely understood).

The Results

The researchers dragged the flags for a total distance of 2 km. The protocol requires the measurement of GPS coordinates every 25 meters as well as measurements on leaf litter depth, soil humidity, and canopy cover. After completing the 2 km transect, more than 60 American dog ticks had been collected and placed in vials filled with 100% ethanol. Storing the ticks in this way prevents the degradation of DNA and allows the ticks to be tested for micro-organisms in the future.

This work is part of a long-term tick pan-Canadian sampling effort to determine the risk of exposure to blacklegged ticks and Lyme disease, which varies greatly across Canada. Over the last 30 years, the blacklegged tick has invaded and established itself in Ontario, Quebec, the Maritime Provinces, and Manitoba. In contrast, self-reproducing populations of blacklegged ticks have not yet been detected in Saskatchewan or Alberta. One possible explanation is that the dry prairie habitat throughout much of southern Saskatchewan is not suitable for blacklegged ticks, which are found in more forested areas and are very sensitive to desiccation. For this reason, the risk of Lyme disease in Saskatchewan and Alberta is much lower compared to other Canadian provinces. However, there have been locally acquired cases of Lyme disease in Saskatchewan.

How Else do we Get Exposed to Ticks?

If blacklegged ticks are not established in Saskatchewan, what explains these locally acquired cases? The answer is believed to be migratory birds. During the spring, migratory birds are estimated to drop off millions of blacklegged ticks in Canada. Some of these ticks are infected with Lyme disease and they can survive in the environment and bite another unlucky host. So, while the risk of Lyme disease in Saskatchewan is low, it is important to remember that there is still a risk. One more reason for the researchers to keep monitoring the tick situation in Saskatchewan.

How to Avoid Ticks

Although the risk for being infected with Lyme disease from ticks in Saskatchewan and the Meewasin Valley are quite low, it is still very important to protect yourself and your furry friends from a possible infection. It takes time for infections to reach a person’s blood stream, especially Lyme disease. A tick needs to remain attached for 36 hours before Lyme disease can be transmitted, so remove any ticks as quickly as you can.

Some ways to avoid and prevent tick bites include:

  • Use a chemical repellent with DEET, permethrin or picaridin.
  • Wear light-colored protective clothing.
  • Tuck pant legs into socks.
  • Avoid tick-infested areas.
  • Check yourself, your children, and your pets daily for ticks and carefully remove any ticks. We suggest using a tick key.

Conclusion

The University of Saskatchewan’s Tick Surveillance program

Although the risk for being infected with Lyme disease from ticks in Saskatchewan and the Meewasin Valley are quite low, it is still very important to know how to identify and add to the research done on them.

If you find a tick on yourself or your pet, you can learn how to identify it, remove it, and submit for research on this Government of Canada page. The University of Saskatchewan also has a tick surveillance program, which you can contribute to by simply taking a photo. Learn more about on their webpage.

Most of this article was written by: Dr Maarten J. Voordouw, assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Microbiology at the University of Saskatchewan

Some information was gathered from: https://magazine.medlineplus.gov/article/understanding-and-preventing-tick-bites 

COVID-19 Updates – Trail Guidelines & Closures

Meewasin is committed to measures to slow the progress and flatten the curve of infections for COVID-19. To ensure that the general public and our staff are safe we are taking all preventative measures possible to stop the transmission of the virus. With this in mind the Meewasin Valley Authority Main Office will be closed with staff working remotely until further notice.

A Complete List of Site Closures:

Meewasin Valley Main Office – CLOSED until further notice

Trail Guidelines

Many parts of the Meewasin Trail remain open. Please follow the physical distancing guidelines below to Please follow the guidelines below to prevent the spread of COVID-19

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you need to contact Meewasin, please call (306) 665-6887 or email meewasin@meewasin.com and watch www.meewasin.com for updates.

Virtual Nature Tour of Beaver Creek

Experience spring out at Beaver Creek and dive into nature with our interpreter Jamie!

A tour at Beaver Creek Conservation Area is always bursting with wildlife including various animals, plants, and insects! Spring is an especially exciting time, where many species are blooming, or having babies.

Due to COVID-19, Beaver Creek was closed during the spring, but follow along with Jamie’s adventure to see some unique and adorable species found in the Meewasin Valley in Saskatoon & area virtually, until it’s safe to come out again!