Farmland & Prairie, tips and ethics
for birders and nature seekers continued

A deep blue slough in a wheat colored prairie field  
The roads aren't marked. (Rural roads, those in the know explained to one newcomer very seriously, all have names. It's just that the names aren't posted publicly. It's quite a shock for someone accustomed to road markers to discover that most gravel roads in rural Saskatchewan begin to look frighteningly alike.) R.M. maps are available at Municipal Offices which are found in almost every small town in Saskatchewan.
Every side road, every slough, every house is marked on the RM map. By the use of symbols, the maps define road quality, locations of farmsteads, locations of schools and churches, and other points of interest. To understand the map, consider that Saskatchewan was divided into divisions of land that are a mile by a mile (a section) which were broken down into four parcels of "quarters." (Farmers still say, "I farm seven quarters," rather than "I farm 1 3/4 sections."  
Snow geese swoop, swirl and form patterns across the prairie sky.
  A Township (TWP) is 36 sections in blocks of six, numbered beginning at the bottom right-hand corner, working left, up a row, and across to the right, etc. Townships run south to north, the numbers increasing up the map. Ranges (R) run east to west. By knowing the quarter, the section, the township, the range and the Rural Municipality, you can pinpoint your location exactly or find any destination point.  
Herds of buffalo are becoming a common sight on the prairies
  The description is always in this order: quarter, section, township, range and W2nd which signifies "west of the second meridian." For example, "SW 1/2 28-30-15 W2nd" translates as "the south west quarter of section number 28 in township 30 in range 15, west of the second meridian". RMs are each assigned a number. RMs were numbered in consecutive order from right to left and from the south end of Saskatchewan working up to the north. Because each map covers a fairly small area, you will need to determine how many maps you will need. Anyone in any RM office will be able to help you.
Now that you know where you want to go, and have your RM map to hand, you will soon decide that there is no fun to be had by sticking to main highways. If you haven't ever driven gravel, slow down. Gravel roads are narrower than highways. Respect on-coming traffic. Gravel is dusty, stones have an interesting way of flying up and providing star burst decorations on windshields, and hitting a gravel ridge at high speed is an almost certain invitation to a roll over. Saskatchewan has a healthy deer population. As dusk, they come out to feed and many of them are convinced that the best bit of snack is always to be found on the other side of the road. They are unpredictable, so watch for them. However, they are also graceful, beautiful, and wonderful to watch as they float effortlessly across a field.  
Prairie photography can be very rewarding
  Don't try to pet the livestock. There are petting zoos scattered around. Farm animals are not pets. Bison, especially, are just this side of wild, even though they are now raised as a source of meat. Take your photos from the other side of the fence. Infant bison are a delightful shade of orange but don't try for a close up. An ostrich, an impressive bird of small brain, will try to eat anything, including a camera that is too close to the fence. Don't try to drive on alkaline mud flats (for example, around the Quill Lakes.) The alkali leaves a readily identifiable white residue so is easy to spot. The mud flats have no secure bottom. Vehicles get stuck. Going for help can be a long walk. When travelling gravel roads, PLEASE stop at unmarked level railway crossings. These are not abandoned lines.  
Spectacular sunsets over the water are a prairie delight as well  
They are freight lines. Some of them are very busy. Stop - Look - Listen - Live.
Saskatchewan has wonderful stands of saskatoons and chokecherries. However, before picking wild fruit, do some checking. Farmers spray their fields for various insect pests. Some of the residue might be on the berries. Ask whether that particular spot is safe.
  If you want a berry-picking experience, there are U-Pick saskatoon plantations dotted around the province. Please don't camp, start fires, hike, collect plants or drive across farmland without asking. Just remember - this is, truly, our back yard. Most often, we are more than willing to share it with you. Often, we will even take the time to pour coffee and describe some of the best places to nature watch. All we ask is that you treat our back yard the same way you want us to treat yours.  
  All Photos Joan Eyolfson Cadham   About The Author