Fall is Migration
Time in Saskatchewan
(Article reprinted with permission of Tourism
fall the truly dedicated will set out with maps, compasses,
binoculars and serious expressions. No, this isn’t an episode
of The Amazing Race and no, they aren’t searching for lost treasure.
Autumn in Saskatchewan offers one of the only chances most people
will get to actually spot a whooping crane.
“whoopers” are one of the most easily recognizable birds, few
people can boast to having actually seen one. This species of
crane has long been considered endangered; in the 1940s their
numbers dwindled to just 21. Conservation efforts have helped
restore numbers to about 200, but there is still only one flock
of wild, migratory whooping cranes in existence.
of the reasons that Saskatchewan is significant to bird watchers
from around the world is that whooping cranes stop in southern
and central Saskatchewan on their migratory path. Each year
the cranes migrate from Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest
Territories to southern Texas. Their stop in Saskatchewan is
the only area on the Canadian portion of the migration route
that is accessible to bird watchers. People flock to some of
the areas that whooping cranes have been known to visit, hoping
for a glimpse of one of these rare birds. But if you want to
see a whooping crane, you’ll have to do your legwork, and keep
your fingers crossed. Ken Kessler, coordinator for the Saskatchewan
Birding Trail, admits, “There’s luck involved, that’s for sure,
but they are spotted in the province every year.” The whoopers’
last-known location is tracked through the whooping crane hotline.
A call to the hotline before you head out will help narrow down
your search and improve your odds at actually finding these
That most elusive of birds - the endangered Whooping Crane.
image in orginal article).
this level of dedication sounds a little intimidating, there
are innumerable less difficult ways to introduce yourself and
your family to bird watching. And if you are planning to travel
in Saskatchewan this fall, you’ll be in the right place. According
to Kessler, Saskatchewan is one of the best places in the western
hemisphere to bird watch. “We are in the centre of the flyway,
so we get huge numbers during migration. There are over 350
species to be seen in the province, including some that are
considered endangered. We also have lots of natural habitat,
unlike more urban bird watching areas.”
recent publication of the Saskatchewan Birding Trail Experience
makes it easy to get out there and see what our winged friends
are up to at this time of year. The guide covers some of the
key bird watching areas in the province, and offers great advice
on getting started. If you are just beginning to keep track
of the various species you’ve spotted, fall migration is a great
time to start. Between the end of August and the beginning of
October, the province will be full of different species and
vast numbers of birds. Your birding journal will quickly fill
up with just a few stops across the province, and you’ll soon
understand why Saskatchewan is a bird watcher’s paradise.
trip to the Quill Lakes area, Canada’s largest salt-water lake,
guarantees some memorable sights. Quill Lakes consists of three
separate lakes, and is one of the most productive waterfowl
areas in North America, hosting about one million birds annually.
Pete Joyce of Ducks Unlimited Canada in Wadena says, “Just the
sheer number of birds people are able to see is impressive.
We have hundreds of thousands of birds going through this area
in the fall.” This is no exaggeration. An average of 200,000
shorebirds, 400,000 ducks, 130,000 snow geese, 80,000 Canada
geese and 40,000 sandhill cranes stop here. The sight—and sound—of
enormous fields covered in masses of waterfowl promises to be
are two areas developed for self-guided bird watching in the
area. The Wadena Wildlife Wetlands/Quill Lakes Interpretive
Area along Highway #35 has five miles of trails and marsh boardwalks,
a canoe launch and an observation tower that overlooks a feeding
station. Foam Lake Heritage Marsh, just north of the town of
Foam Lake, also has some excellent viewing opportunities. The
Marsh includes 4,000 acres of prairie wetland, hiking trails,
lookout towers, a picnic area and lots of informational signage.
are also self-guided driving tours available if you prefer.
Pick up a driving package and get all kinds of valuable birding
information from the friendly people at Ducks Unlimited in Wadena.
With plenty of accommodations, great restaurants and many other
activities in the area, combined with some of the province’s
best bird watching, a trip to the Quill Lakes makes a perfect
is also home to North America's first bird sanctuary, established
in 1887 at Last Mountain Lake. Because the lake is so long it
has two different habitats, offering the potential to spot a
wider variety of birds. In fact, more than 280 different species
of birds have been recorded at Last Mountain Lake. Large numbers
of migratory birds also pass through the area in the fall.
at the Information Centre located on the north end of the lake
for detailed information on birdwatching in the area. There
is also a banding station on the north end of the lake, which
can accommodate observers if arrangements are made ahead of
time. Although the lake is long, access to the various points
of interest is easy, and there are many places to stay in the
area, including Rowan’s Ravine and the resort community of Regina
The Great Blue Heron is found in many marsh areas throughout
the province. It moves at lightning speed to catch small fish
with its long bill.(See
image in orginal article).
stop at Chaplin, between Moose Jaw and Swift Current, is an
excellent way to take a break from the road if you have a final
destination along the TransCanada. Take a check-list of birds
in the region and make bird spotting a game for the family.
You can call ahead to arrange a tour of the area as an easy
introduction. If you prefer to set out on your own, the best
fall bird watching in the area is at Reed Lake near the town
of Morse, just west of Chaplin. You will see large numbers of
waterfowl and shorebirds, and the area always has a variety
of prairie birds. Observing these birds in the natural habitat
means that you’ll have plenty of opportunities for a close-up
watching in the Chaplin area is quickly gaining popularity according
to Clem Miller, a birder and volunteer with the Chaplin Tourism
Committee. He says, “There are more people every year who want
to try bird watching. It gives them the chance to be outdoors,
meet some really interesting people and learn a lot.”
matter where in Saskatchewan your birding adventures take you,
fall is a wonderful time to start your own birding journal.
And maybe one day you’ll add that elusive whooping crane.
(Related links and images pertaining to this
article can be found at the Tourism Saskatchewan website.)