Wascana Wildlife Refuge & Nature Reserve
(Unless otherwise indicated, photos by Don of www.WascanaPark.com)
Located south of Wascana Hill.
The entrance is on the south corner of the east fence..
(Click on a picture for larger view)
This area was acquired (and expropriated) in 1971 from private land owners who resided here or operated market gardens.
Since that time the area has not been interfered with and has returned to a semi-natural state.
The area is ecologically sensitive and restrictions have heen put in place to to preserve the habitat
for the plants and animals within.
We ask that
* no dogs or cats be brought into the area
* people please remain on the trails
* bicycles remain outside the fence
* do not feed the animals
*respect animal's space and privacy
* take only memories, leave only footprints
By following these steps the habitat will remain a pleasurable and rewarding experience for everyone.
From its beginnings as a market garden many types or species of plants have been introduced
which are not native to this area. The rnost visible examples are the irises, asparagus,
rhubarb, caragana, mustartd and alfalfa growing in this area. The asparagus found in this
area is basically the same as what you would find in the supermarket. The caragana, native
to Russia, is well adapted to dry conditions and was introduced as a windbreak for homesteads.
As a result it has proliferated in the Centre as well as all over Saskatchewan. Alfalfa,
introduced as a fodder crop from Europe to North America now grows wild and is abundant along
roadsides in waste places throughout the prairie provinces.
The two most common grasses in the habitat area are also introduced species. Brome grass and
crested wheat grass originate from Europe. These grasses, although tall and green, are less
preferred by grazing animals thus giving it a competitive edge over native grasses such as Poa..
Many native plants have survived and flourished within the habitat. The shoreline plants
illustrate this clearly - willows, cattails, and bulrushes are all abundant along the water's
edge. Other plants indigenous to the marsh include mint and common reed grass. The mint plant
can be easily identified by the square stem and characteristic scent. It is an understory plant
reaching heights of 5 to 20cm. Phragrnities grass, on the other hand, grows between 1 to 4
metres in height. Only a small
pocket exists in the habitat area, it can also be found in the Eastern Qu'Appelle Valley.
Native plants were also used for medicinal purposes. Yarrow, a white flowered perennial, was used by
aboriginal peoples as an antiseptic. Gumweed, also common to the prairies, was used to seal bandages
- the sticky bracts of the plant can be uused like a glue. This plant flowers yellow from July to
September and is common to dry and somewhat saline areas. Another native plant which has adapted
to salty conditions is samphire. This annual keeps its tiny flowers deep in its succulent body; at
maturity the plant turns bright crimson with bright patches of red visible in fields. Silverveed
is another plant which flowers yellow starting in mid-June. The top of the leaf is green while the
bottom appears silvery, hence the name. Bright red runners allow the plant to spread out over the
environment without growing tall. The pungent aroma of sage is ever present. The habitat area is
home to two different species - one introduced and the other native. The tall sage plant is the
introduced variety while the smaller one is native. Both varieties are unpalatable and overgrazing
in pastures is often indicated by an abundance of this plant as it proliferates at the expense of
REPTILES AND AMPHIBIANS
The marsh area contains organisms of the cold-blooded variety both reptile and amphibian. The
painted turtle is the easiest to see on a warm sunny day; as a member of the basking turtle family
it will climb up out of the water to warm itself. These turtles prefer soft bottomed bodies of water
and are mainly carnivorous. The bright colouration on their underbelly with red lines on the neck
becoming yellow at the head gives them their name. Garter snakes inhabit the marsh area feeding
on amphibians, fish, and worms. Although found near the water they are not true water snakes.
Garter snakes are non-poisonous and do not possess enlarged teeth, however they may, if captured,
discharge musk from the base of their tail which has an unpleasant odor.
Amphibians can also be found or in this case heard in the marsh area. The leopard frog is the most
recognizable in spite of its variable colouring ranging from green to brownish with dark spots.
Its diet consists mainly of insects. The leopard frog will travel from the ponds and marshes to
meadowlands for a meal. The wood frog is smaller than the leopard frog and while it doesn't have
spots, it has a characteristic mask design on its face extending from the snout to over the eardrum.
This species has well developed, long legs allowing it to be the most terrestrial of all the pond
frogs. It is also considered to be the most intelligent frog based on similarities in hunting style
with the toad. These frogs remain silent throughout the year except during their breeding time in
the early spring when up to 3000 eggs will be laid in temporary pools of water. Chorus frogs can
also be found in the habitat. This frog, commonly rust colored -but may be green, possesses a
pointed head, short legs, and discs on the fingers and toes which are barely noticeable. Survival
for this frog is quite a challenge as it is neither fully adapted to a water nor terrestrial existence.
Tiger salamanders may occasionally be discovered under logs or in animal burrows which they use as
places to hide during the day. These nocturnal creatures have variable colour with a dark or
yellowish-brown to black ground cover and a yellowish with dark marbling undersurface Small fish,
frogs, and young mice comprise the majority of its diet.
Perhaps the easiest marsh animal to name and recognize is the beaver. The rich glossy brown fur,
sought after by early fur traders, and paddle-like tail make this a familiar animal to most. Beavers
are also known for their voracious appetite for trees - however the entire tree is never eaten since
most nutrients are contained in the young bark and leaves. The beaver's diet also includes shrubs
and other weedy vegetation. Not quite as well-known is the importance of their ecological role: the
creation of wetlands provide homes for many other organisms, dams provide erosion control and improve
water quality of large rivers by reducing the amount of silt introduced. Muskrats also play an important
role in maintaining wetlands. Although much smaller than the beaver many physical characteristics
remain the same: fur, range of habitat, feet and long flattened tail. Muskrats will eat frogs, crayfish
and small turtles but are primarily herbivores (plant eaters), eating aquatic vegetation. The muskrat
is responsible, in part, for creating and maintaining large open water areas necessary for attracting
waterfowl through the consumption of cattails.
One predator found in the wetlands is the mink which has earned the nickname "the wetland weasel"
from its choice of habitat. Its thick oily brown fur provides good insulation to the cold northern
waters and partially webbed feet make it a good swimmer. Mink use a patrolling circuit pattern to hunt
the small mammals and fish, birds and insects which make up its diet.
The meadowlands are home to jackrabbits and red foxes. The browny-grey rabbit has distinctive ears
which are rimmed white with black tips. The extremely large ears serve a dual purpose in both predator
detection and as heat radiators, allowing the animal to remain cool in hot weather This rabbit known
for its quickness can attain speeds of up to 75 kilometers per hour using 5 metre bounds.
The distinctive rusty-red fur characterizes the red fox whose habitat stretches from the arctic tundra
to the deep south of America. It has the greatest geographic range of any carnivore. Although primarily
a carnivore, foxes are known to eat fruits and berries when in season. Foxes are mostly
solitary creatures except ~during the reproctive season when they form monogamous pairs.
The habitat preserve is also home to the only flying mammal - the bat. Both the big and little brown
bat can be found here. While bats and birds appear similar due to their ability to fly, the similarity
ends there. The bat's body is covered with fur and has leathery membranes for wings. The fur lacks the
lift-giving abilities of feathers while the membrane maximizes lift at lower velocities. Consequently
bats have sacrificed long distance flight for maneuverability. The most distinctive difference between
the animals is the bat's ability to effectively hunt at night using echolocation (nature's radar). The
little brown bat has long coppery hairs on its back and is grey underneath; it feeds on soft-bodied
insects. The big brown bat, in addition to being larger, has dark brown back fur and a naked face; it
adds hard-bodied insects (such as beetles) to its diet.
WATERFOWL AND BIRDS
Birds make up the most visible category of creatures which inhabit this nature area. The one that comes to
mind first, for Wascana Centre, is the Canada Goose. The geese arrive early in the spring to begin nesting
a brood of 5 to 12 eggs incubated for 23 to 32 days. Incubation is performed only by the female but the
male stays close by to guard his mate and eggs. Later on in the summer, usually late June or early July
when the young goslings are well developed, the adults begin molting their feathers which renders them
flightless for a period of approximately a month. At this time Wascana Centre participates in the capture
and relocation of the geese. Locally, Wascana Centre exports approximately 1000 birds a year to areas in
Saskatchewan such as Cumberland house. In the fall Wascana Centre becomes a staging area for the bird's
southern migration. At this time of year between seven and ten thousand birds can be seen resting and
preparing for the long flight ahead.
In spite of all the attention Canada Geese receive , many other waterfowl frequent the park. One of the
most well-known and abundant to the northern hemisphere is the Mallard. The male of this species is easy
to identify with a bright yellow bill and glossy green head while the female is a sandy brown
(excellent for camouflage). Both sexes have a blue wing patch bordered with two white stripes. The task
of raising the young rests solely with the females. Incubation of the 5 to 14 eggs can last between
26-29 days. Upon hatching, the ducklings follow the mother to water which is usually nearby.
The lake's resident eccentric is the Eared grebe whose red eyes and unkept gold ear tufts give him a mystique of
craziness. Physical characteristics are rounded out by a short thin bill and a predominantly black body.
Their nests, reflective of their personality, are a floating mess of stalks and stems moulded to their body
and anchored to reeds or bushes. These birds have made a strong recovery from the early 19th century when,
because of their plumage and accessibility, many thousands were killed.
Geese and ducks are not the only birds who prefer a marsh habitat. Widespread to Saskatchewan marshes are
the red-winged blackbird and the yellow-headed blackbird. Their names provide an excellent description of
their physical attributes. The yellow-headed blackbird prefers deeper water to nest in than the red-wing.
This strategy eliminates the threat of land predators while aereal threats are kept at bay by a concentrated
group effort; effective due to their colonial nesting habits. The Kilideer can often be heard with its
loud and distinctive kill-dee call. The bird is nine to eleven inches long with brown upper parts and a
white breast crossed with two black bands. When the eggs or young are threatened, the parents are
notorious for feigning injury to attract attention to themselves and away from the nest.
As one moves from the marsh to meadowland, other species of birds can be observed. One which makes itself
quite visible is the Eastern Kingbird. It has a black crown and upper parts with a white throat and
underparts. The size of the bird (8-9") belies its disposition; its Latin name translates to
"tyrant of tyrants". This bird will perch on highly exposed branches or fence posts and challenge
the world with its furious and harsh squeals. The Kingbird is more than all "squawk" as well,
in defense of their nest they will attack anirnals as large as crows and hawks by landing on their back
to inflict their punishment. Other birds important to the prairies are the Barn Swallow and the
Purple Martin. Both birds obtain their food "on the wing" meaning in flight, but there are important
differences as well. The Barn swallow has a deeply forked tail and dark blue-black back. Its flight
is characteristically fast and direct. The Purple Martin is a glossy purplish-black with a shallowly
forked tail; it has a circular flight pattern and is larger bird than the swallow. Only recently has
the reputation of the Martin's voracious appetite for mosquitoes sparked the appearance of multi-unit
martin houses which will attract colonies of martins, the introduced House Sparrow however is stealing
nesting sites from the Martin. The bright yellow American Goldfinch provides quite a spectacle in the
open country with its wild flight. These birds are seedeaters, and unlike most seedeaters, will feed
their young partially digested seeds from their crop instead of insects. The nests of these birds are
so thick and well constructed that rainwater will collect in them unless the parent is around to shield it.
The Common Yellowthroat is another yellow bird however a "black-mask" around its eyes make it easy to identify.
The bird usually stays in the dense brush and is quite elusive to see but soft squeaking noises
may draw them out.
Also present in the Centre is the ever adaptive magpie and crow. The magpie is a large black and white bird
with a long stick-like tail. It is notorious for stealing the eggs and nestlings of other birds. Their
large nests (0.6-20O metres wide) have protective domes made out of stout thorny twigs which protect their
young and their stolen treasures of buttons, pins and other assorted knick-knacks. The crow, in contrast
to the magpie, is larger, all black and is considered to be one of the most intelligent birds. Evidence
of this is apparent with their well developed communication system based on variations in their basic caw.
Further, when a group of crows are feeding, one can be observed as a sentry standing watch to alert the
others of danger. The crow is considered an omnivore, eating insects, small reptiles, fruit and dead animal
matter as well as also raiding nests.
(Information from a WCA Information Sheet)