This large, natural, inland lake is strongly alkaline and quite shallow with a maximum depth of 2-3 meters. The lake formerly drained through a creek in the north end to the North Saskatchewan River, but due to recent drought conditions the water level has not been high enough to spill for many years. Lister Lake attached to the south end of Beaverhill Lake is controlled by a weir constructed by Ducks Unlimited Canada and could be described as man-made or at least as a man-controlled basin. The shoreline of the lake is affected periodically by wind tide in which exposed mudflats would be reflooded for a short period depending on the intensity and direction of the wind. The topography of the surrounding area is flat to gently rolling with open grasslands (used as grazing areas for cattle) with a mix of aspen groves and willow stands. The shoreline is variable and includes shallow mudflats, narrow sandy beaches, and areas of dense emergent vegetation.
The maximum count of shorebirds using the site in the spring of 1989 was 23,442 individuals (only select portions of the area were counted because of logistical conditions so this figure does not represent the total lake). In the spring of 1995, the complete lake and adjacent wetlands were surveyed several times. The highest one day count of 52,334 shorebirds was observed on May 24, 1995. This does not take into consideration turnover rate of individual species. Therefore, the total number of shorebirds using the lake is probably higher.
The lake is used by local breeding shorebirds such as the American Avocet and Piping Plover, but the greatest use is by the arctic nesting shorebirds during migration in the spring. Surveys and general observations, from 1978-1995 show that migration use, for most shorebird species, is higher during the spring period of mid-May trough the first week of June. A few species, such as the dowitchers, appear to use the area in higher numbers during the fall period which extends well into late September. Shorebirds use the lakeshore, adjoining wetlands and flooded uplands for feeding and roosting. Some of the larger species of shorebirds also use the adjacent cultivated uplands for feeding.
The lake is a major staging site in the spring for migratory geese and swans, as well as a molting and staging area for ducks in the summer and fall (such as Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos, Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata, Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca, and Canvasback, Aythya valisineria). Numerous species of raptors, including the federally endangered, Peregrine Falcon are observed in association with the large concentrations of migratory birds. Large concentrations of colonial nesting birds have been recorded on the lake's northern islands. The aspen groves adjacent to the lake provide important habitat for concentrations of neotropical migrants which are monitored by the Beaverhill Bird Observatory. The adjacent grasslands and woodland habitats are also important to a variety of mammalian and avian species.
Ecology & Conservation
Ducks Unlimited Canada will be managing the wetlands adjacent to the lake, which are used by shorebirds, in an effort to provide more suitable habitat for shorebirds as well as waterfowl. Consideration is being given by Ducks Unlimited Canada under the North American Waterfowl Management Plan to improve grazing management along key portions of lakeshore, such as those used by Piping Plovers as breeding sites.
Climate plays a major role in the stability of Canada?s prairie wetlands. Continuous drought, as experienced in recent years, threatens the viability of the site over the long term. Proposed management plans to be developed for the site will identify ways to address this issue during normal drought cycles (which should ensure that some habitat is available during dry years). There is limited oil/gas exploration in the area but this is controlled by provincial government regulations.
The area is well known for its bird viewing potential and ecotourism is becoming more prominent which can cause some disturbance to the wildlife. However, the various groups promoting this area are also working towards educating the public on the ethics and proper practices of birdwatching without causing undue disturbance to the wildlife in the area. Waterfowl hunting produces limited disturbance on the northern half of the lake but occurs only in September and October. Cattle grazing and trampling may occur along most shoreline areas.
A. Beaverhill Lake Integrated Land Use Plan:
This is a land use planning document applying only to Crown lands. It provides for local development plans (LPD) for each parcel of Crown land; these LDPs must conform to the land use intent for the theme area in which the parcels fall. The theme areas include Agriculture, Agriculture-Wildlife, Wildlife-Agriculture, Wildlife, and Recreation. Management priorities vary depending on the theme area and physical restraints of each parcel of land. The Natural Area falls in the Wildlife theme area. The lake itself (i.e. the water area) is undefined, the plan only deals with land area.
B. Natural Area:
It is a protected area under the Wilderness Areas, Ecological Reserves and Natural Areas Act. Some management priorities include protection of significant natural features, maintenance of habitats and communities of native species, and accommodation of public appreciation, education and enjoyment of site which are compatible with the primary intent of wildlife protection.
C. Ramsar site:
Management priorities are to support programs and activities on the site which are consistent with the Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention.
D. Seasonal Sanctuary:
This includes the area within a one-half mile radius of the American White Pelican nesting island in Sec.8/Twsp. 52/Rge. 17/W of 4th Meridian. All access is prohibited from 15 April to 15 September. The management objective is protection of the pelican nesting colony.
E. Restricted Area:
This is a provincial regulation applying to the southern half of the lake and all areas within one-half mile of the edge of the water of the southern half of the lake (i.e. the lake and adjacent lands within Townships 50 and 51, ranges 17 and 18, west of the 4th Meridian). Hunting of game birds is prohibited until after 31 October in any year. Access is not restricted. The objective is to provide a safe area for staging waterfowl during the peak of the migration.