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

Fall Clean-Up in progress Meewasin

The Meewasin Fall Clean-Ups Could Have a Huge Impact

Over the course of a year, Meewasin runs a number of volunteer events throughout the Valley. That includes beaver tree wrapping events as well as a variety of invasive species removal projects. And each one of them is extremely important for the health of our valued outdoor spaces.

But the backbone of our volunteering efforts is the Annual Clean-Up Campaign which takes place across the Meewasin Valley after the snow melts, starting on Earth Day! But this year, with the help of generous sponsorship to the program for the program, Meewasin is taking things to the next level by holding Fall Clean-Up events in two key locations.

Fall Clean-Up: Saturday Nov 13, 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM @ the Northeast Swale.

Fall Clean-Up: Monday Nov 15, 4:00 PM – 6:00 PM @ the Weir.

The Clean-Up Campaign is vital

Clean-Up Campaign MeewasinOn the face of it, Clean-Up Campaign seems like a pretty straightforward activity. Groups of volunteers head off into the Valley with bags, gloves, and grabbers, and start removing trash. In a sense, it is quite a simple concept but the truth is that it is easily one of the most important events Meewasin has through the year.

Winters in Saskatchewan are long, cold, and usually quite snowy. During the course of the months of cold and snow, a lot of garbage tends to accumulate. This includes everything from chocolate bar wrappers to old tires and beyond. And the need to remove it is incredibly high as all of it can be quite destructive to the Meewasin Valley.

That’s why Meewasin gets out there with the help of the public every spring to remove all of the garbage left behind over the course of the winter. It’s definitely more work than our on staff crews can handle on their own. If it wasn’t for our dedicated volunteer core, we’d spend most of the spring, summer, and fall just picking up winter garbage.

Fall Clean-Ups are also helpful

Clean-Up Campaign MeewasinMeewasin’s Annual Clean-Up Campaign is a popular event that happens in the spring. But that doesn’t mean that other efforts aren’t ongoing. From May to November, small clean-up events supported by Meewasin are run by locals businesses, community groups, and schools.

So far, 2021 has been no exception to this. Meewasin is looking to build on that momentum by holding Fall Clean-Up events with members of the volunteer core in early November, hopefully before it gets to cold or before snow permanently hits the ground.

The goal is to head out key areas in the Meewasin Valley and tidy them up before winter strikes. This will hopefully help lessen the amount of garbage left to clean up in the spring. Unfortunately, new garbage will still accumulate over the winter but if there’s less old garbage left under the snow to clean up, the better off we are.

Volunteer with Meewasin.

Start your own clean-up event.

A couple enjoys a beautiful day at River Landing Meewasin Saskatoon

Meewasin Reports Progress with State of the Valley Report

As stewards of the river valley corridor, Meewasin strives to ensure a healthy and vibrant river valley. Balancing human use and conservation for the benefit of present and future generations is no easy task but it has proven to be a valuable and effective approach.

A chickadee rests on a branch at Beaver Creek MeewasinMeewasin’s fundamental mission is based around the concept of partners working within a single agency to conserve regional natural and cultural resources. It was introduced through Raymond Moriyama’s original vision for this organization.

Every five years, Meewasin issues a State of the Valley Report to provide a point in time assessment of the advancement Meewasin has made in relation to the overarching themes of Health, Balance, Fit and Vibrancy. The time frame covered the report runs from 2014 to 2018, and provides a wonderful reflection of Meewasin’s work.

Health

A Pileated Woodpecker searches for a meal in Gabriel Dumont Park Meewasin Saskatoon

Assessing the Health of the study area includes factors such as land use and land cover and changes, biodiversity, and conservation measures. And progress has been positive on the majority of Meewasin’s ecological goals.

Within the study area, 84% of Natural Areas are in patches larger than 20 hectares, making up 28% of the total study area. Within the Meewasin Valley, that proportion is 91% which comprises 50% of the total valley area.

The Health of flora and fauna were also assessed.

Seventy rare or COSEWIC ranked species were found in the study area, out of 524 unique species reported. Horticulture restoration planting projects were established at multiple locations, resulting in 35,122 plantings within the Meewasin Valley.

Over 900,000 invasive species plant stems were treated within the reporting period. Monitoring of aquatic invasive species continues at multiple locations. To date no invasive mussels have been detected, which is key for our waterways.

Balance

Finding Balance between conservation and human use of the region is never easy. This means providing safe access for community recreation and nature appreciation while not endangering conservation efforts.

The State of the Valley Report indicates things are progressing well and sets out some great suggestions of where focus can be intensified.

Within the City of Saskatoon, 92% of the shoreline is publicly owned. Significant work happened over the reporting period with over 13 kms of new trail was established in several areas and upgrades were also completed during the reporting period and many more upgrades being made now. Green space now encompasses 1,998 hectares of the total study area, making the Valley a great home for native flora and fauna.

Fit and Vibrancy

The Traffic Bridge reflects perfectly in the South Saskatchewan River Meewasin SaskatoonMeewasin’s strategic goals related to Fit and Vibrancy are being achieved. This includes goals facilitating recreational access to the river valley, achieving diversity in activities, and increasing education and public participation.

Additionally, Meewasin has expanded communications, outreach, and engagement opportunities within the region. These new and enhanced strategies have resulted in broader and diversifying engagement, with a much larger volume of community participation reported.

Read the full 2018 State of the Valley Report here.

A beaver sits in the South Saskatchewan River Meewasin

The Diefenbaker Canada Centre Beaver Pond is a Happening Spot for Wildlife

There are places throughout the Meewasin Valley that are prime destinations to do some wildlife spotting. Beaver Creek Conservation Area is always marvelous. Chief Whitecap Park is loaded with a variety of birds year round. And the Northeast Swale almost always has deer lurking about, particularly at dusk and dawn.

The beaver pond behind the Diefenbaker Centre University of Saskatchewan MeewasinBut there’s one spot that a lot of people don’t consider checking out. For years, the beaver pond behind the Diefenbaker Canada Centre on the University of Saskatchewan campus, aka Devil’s Dip, has provided a home for the country’s most famous rodents. But this fall, they aren’t the only Meewasin Valley residents who have been seen in the area.

As always when looking for wildlife, there are basic rules that need to be kept 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.

A beaver enjoys a snack on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River Meewasin

Beavers on the Job

Calling beavers industrious is an incredible understatement. Their work damming off a drainage ditch leading from the University of Saskatchewan down to the South Saskatchewan River created the pond they now call home. And their aggressive tree collection methods have led to robust tree wrapping programs from the university and Meewasin.

That doesn’t change the fact that they are incredibly fascinating as well as highly beneficial for the local wetland ecology. Beavers can be spotted swimming, collecting trees, and taking naps in a sunny spot at this pond. They’ll be disappearing for the winter quite soon, so make a point to stop by before the snow flies if you’re walking the Meewasin Trail.

Muskrat and Mink and Porcupines, Oh My!

Beavers aren’t the only adorable, furry rodents who like the water and need a place to stay for the winter. And it looks like one of them has moved into the Beaver Pond! It’s reputedly common for muskrat to join beavers in their lodges and winter with them. At least one muskrat has recently been viewed in the pond a few times, so that’s likely the case.

Not all of the Meewasin Valley’s top rodents want to get in the water with the beavers. A massive porcupine was recently documented in the vicinity. Again, people know they’re around but it’s always fun to see one waddling down the trail. Just keep your distance as they don’t generally enjoy company on their strolls.

A mink pops up in the South Saskatchewan River MeewasinA surprising and rare visitor was also spotted at the pond by Mike Digout, a local wildlife expert and photographer who spends a lot of time there. He saw a mink hanging out in the pond with the muskrat and beavers. There are minks in the Meewasin Valley, but sightings are few and far between, to say the least.

While this might seem obvious, it’s always worth mentioning there is also an abundance of migrating birds hanging out around the river at this time of year. Naturally, there’s an absurd number of Canadian Geese but they’re not the only ones on the move. Keep your eyes peeled. You never know what you’ll see.

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

The Traffic Bridge leading into River Landing Meewasin Saskatoon

TRAIL CLOSURE

City of Saskatoon Lift Station detour map Meewasin TrailStarting Oct 12, 2021, a section of the Meewasin Trail across from GD Archibald Memorial Park on Spadina Crescent East will be closed through 2023. This includes not only the main trail but also the lower part of the trail that’s closer to the river.

The City of Saskatoon is conducting a major upgrade to its lift station at that location which necessitates the closure. The main trail will have a bypass in place but the lower trail will be completely cut off throughout the duration of the work.

Please watch our website and social media for further details and re-opening dates.

City of Saskatoon – Construction Notice – Spadina Lift Station