River Landing via the Traffic Bridge Saskatoon Meewasin

The Saskatchewan River Basin Helps Make the Prairies What It Is

When it comes to defining Saskatchewan, if not the Canadian Prairies as a whole, there are a few features that really stand out. A major one is, of course, the fields of various agricultural crops that span the region. But that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

The Canadian Shield that cuts across the upper portions of all three provinces is as iconic as their amber waves of grain in the south. But there are also badlands, deserts, woodlands, and more, all of which make up this part of the country.

Easily the most underestimated and overlooked natural feature on the Prairies is the Saskatchewan River Basin, which is home to the Meewasin Valley. And it’s the job of Partners FOR the Saskatchewan River Basin to highlight the important role it plays and protect it.

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What is the Saskatchewan River Basin?

Fluffy clouds dot the sky over the Broadway Bridge and South Saskatchewan River Meewasin SaskatoonIt all begins on the slopes of the Rocky Mountains on the western side of Alberta. The Saskatchewan River Basin starts at the continental divide, then covers a huge portion of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

When it’s all said and done, the Saskatchewan River Basin finishes its cross-country journey at Lake Winnipeg. If you’ve never been, it’s actually quite spectacular as Lake Winnipeg is the eleventh largest freshwater lake in the world.

Another key feature of the Saskatchewan River Basin is the Saskatchewan River itself. It is the fourth longest river in North America, traveling well over 1900 kilometers. This river is quite literally feeding Lake Winnipeg with water from the Rocky Mountains.

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Why should you care about the Saskatchewan River Basin?

A beaver eats in the South Saskatchewan River Saskatoon MeewasinIn total, the Saskatchewan River Basin is approximately 406,000 square kilometers. It is made up of groundwater aquifers, sloughs, wetlands, rivers, and lakes that range in size from tiny drops on the Prairies to virtual inland seas.

These regions obviously play host to an incredible array of wildlife. There are thousands of species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and insects that need a healthy Saskatchewan River Basin ecosystem to survive. But people need it, as well.

The fresh, clean water that the millions of people who live in the region rely on to live comes from and is filtered through the Saskatchewan River Basin. If nothing else, maintaining it is an act of self-preservation for all human life on the Prairies.

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That’s where the PFSRB comes in

The Partners FOR the Saskatchewan River Basin is an advocacy group that has taken on the responsibility of promoting safe and healthy water use in this region. Sustainability is the name of the game at PFSRB through maintaining this key natural resource and nurturing cultural values that enhance that ideal.

It’s comprised of a collective of like-minded organizations across all three Prairie provinces. Since the Saskatchewan River Basin spreads across Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, it only makes sense that the approach to preserving it also comes from the entire region.

As an organization, the PFSRB holds a variety of educational events to make sure the public understands why the Saskatchewan River Basin is important and what they can do to help. You can help, too. Joining the PFSRB is definitely a good first step.

NEXT: Learn more about Partners FOR the Saskatchewan River Basin

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.

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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

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

Activities to do at Home!

Backyard Bingo

Looking for ideas to get some fresh air without having to leave your neighbourhood? Download the ultimate Backyard Bingo that we’ve created to give you outdoor activity ideas to connect with nature Meewasin Valley in and around Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and many ecosystems in Canada! Watch this video of one of our Beaver Creek Conservation Area Interpreters, Erica, trying out a few of the activities found in Meewasin’s Backyard Bingo!

Take a Virtual 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 is closed until advisable, 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!

DIY Eco-Scavenger Hunt

Become a citizen scientist and help contribute to our understanding of the natural world around us by recording observations of plants, insects and animals using iNaturalist.org or the iNaturalist app on smartphone!

Download our DIY Eco-Scavenger Hunt for some ideas of what species to look out for in the Meewasin Valley!

Bird Cookies

Miss visiting the cute chickadees and other wild birds at Beaver Creek? 🦉 We’ve got an fun new activity to bring the birds to your backyard! Check out our new video collaboration with Tourism Saskatoon on how to make Bird Cookies and help the native bird population in your area 👍

Colouring Pages

Check out these colouring pages and learn about native species in them by visiting our social media pages! We are posting new ones each week!