IBA Beaverhill Lake
Tofield, Alberta
Site Summary
AB001 Latitude
53.450° N
112.529° W
668 - 670 m
208.47 km²
coniferous forest (boreal/alpine), deciduous woods (temperate), native grassland, inland saline lake, mud or sand flats (freshwater), coastal sand dunes & beaches
Land Use:
Agriculture, Nature conservation and research, Hunting, Tourism/recreation
Potential or ongoing Threats:
Dykes/dam/barrages, Deforestation, Drought, Grazing, Hunting, Interactions with native species/disease, Recreation/tourism
IBA Criteria: Globally Significant: Congregatory Species, Waterfowl Concentrations, Continentally Significant: Wading Bird Concentrations, Nationally Significant: Congregatory Species, Shorebird Concentrations
Conservation status: IBA Conservation Plan written/being written, Natural Area, Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network
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Site Description
Beaverhill Lake is located approximately 60 km southeast of Edmonton near the town of Tofield, Alberta. The site includes the waters of Beaverhill Lake (13,900 ha) and the Beaverhill Natural Area (410 ha). The Lake is strongly alkaline and shallow with a maximum depth of two to three m. The water levels fluctuate annually in response to precipitation. The shoreline is variable and includes shallow mudflats, narrow sandy beaches, and areas of dense emergent vegetation. The adjacent Beaverhill Natural Area has flat to gently rolling open grasslands with a mix of aspen groves and willow stands. Outside of the Natural Area habitats are comprised primarily of rangeland with some cultivated areas.
Beaverhill Lake is an important waterfowl staging area (spring and fall) with more than 200,000 individuals regularly using the site each year. During spring migration, more than 150,000 geese stage here, including daily numbers of 50-75,000 Snow Geese (greater than 1% of the global population) and 50-100,000 Greater White-fronted Geese (approximately 6.3% to 7.9% of the mid-continent population). In fall, 40-70,000 dabbling ducks (mostly Mallards and Pintails) are also present. The Lake is also an important waterfowl moulting area with up to 25,000 moulting ducks being reported (1976 data). Sandhill Cranes also stage here in spring migration with 8,000 being recorded in late April, 1993.

In addition to waterfowl, Beaverhill Lake regularly supports substantial numbers of a variety of shorebirds. Intensive shorebird surveys in 1995 included two counts with over 50,000 individuals present (19 and 24 May). In total, 32 species of shorebirds were recorded during 1995. Single species high counts included 10,000 Red-necked Phalaropes, 10,000 Pectoral Sandpipers, 10,000 dowitcher spp., 7,800 Black-bellied Plover, 7,200 Semipalmated Sandpiper, and 1,000 American Avocet. Intensive shorebird survey data are available for only a few years (1995, 1987) and average numbers for most of these species may to be lower. Nonetheless, these numbers suggest that approximately 20% of the estimated North American Pectoral Sandpiper population, and almost 16% of the estimated North American Black-bellied Plover population may have been present at Beaverhill Lake during May of 1995.

The Beaverhill Bird Observatory has been monitoring landbird migration in the Natural Area at the southwestern corner of the lake since 1986. Since 1994, this monitoring has consisted of a standardized daily program of mist netting and censuses. The number and diversity of landbirds captured varies considerably from year to year. Good numbers (1,000 to 3,000) and diversity (39 to 50+ species) of landbird migrants are banded at the site each season, with the total number of individuals moving through the area being much higher. Some of the more common species included Yellow-rumped and Yellow Warbler.

Piping Plover is the only threatened species that nests at Beaverhill Lake. During the 1996 International Survey, six breeding pairs of this globally Vulnerable, nationally Endangered species were reported. During migration, Peregrine Falcons are also regularly observed.

IBA Criteria
SpeciesT | A | I Links Date Season Number G C N
Baird's Sandpiper 2005 - 2006 SP 8,000 - 10,000
Black-bellied Plover 1995 SP 7,800
Black-crowned Night Heron 1976 SU 1,098
Buff-breasted Sandpiper 1978 - 2005 SP 57 - 1,500
California Gull 2019 SP 5,000
Franklin's Gull 1976 SU 20,000
Greater White-fronted Goose 1995 - 2019 FA 10,000 - 50,000
Greater White-fronted Goose 1992 - 1995 SP 10,000 - 50,000
Long-billed Dowitcher 1992 - 2005 SP 1,500 - 20,000
Pectoral Sandpiper 1978 - 1992 SP 500 - 10,000
Peregrine Falcon 1992 SP 10
Red Knot 1993 SP 1,040
Red-necked Phalarope 2005 SP 30,000
Rusty Blackbird 1993 - 2018 FA 23 - 50
Sandhill Crane 2009 FA 8,000
Sandhill Crane 1993 - 2017 SP 7,200 - 8,000
Semipalmated Plover 1993 SP 3,325
Semipalmated Sandpiper 2005 SP 20,000
Sprague's Pipit 2004 FA 25
Stilt Sandpiper 2005 SP 20,000
Tundra Swan 1992 SP 2,000
Waterbirds 1995 FA 200,000
Waterbirds 1995 SP 200,000
Waterbirds 1976 SU 25,000
Note: species shown in bold indicate that the maximum number exceeds at least one of the IBA thresholds (sub-regional, regional or global). The site may still not qualify for that level of IBA if the maximum number reflects an exceptional or historical occurrence.
Conservation Issues
The significance of Beaverhill Lake to migrating birds has been recognized by a variety of initiatives. In 1987 it was designated as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar program. Also in 1987, the Beaverhill Natural Area was established. It includes Dekker Islands, Pelican Island and Lister Lake Area. These areas are protected under the Alberta Provincial Government's Wilderness Areas, Ecological Reserves and Natural Areas Act (1981). In May 1996, the Lake was designated as a Regional Reserve for migrating shorebirds under the WHRSN program. A number of initiatives are underway to limit disturbance to waterbirds. The area within 800m of the pelican nesting island has been designated as a seasonal sanctuary. Access is prohibited between 15 April to 15 September. An additional restricted area has been identified to protect staging waterfowl during the peak of their migration. This area includes the southern half of the lake and all areas within 800m of the edge of the water (southern half only). Hunting of game birds is prohibited until after 31 October in any year. Ducks Unlimited has also protected and enhanced approximately 820 ha of wetland and 225 ha of associated upland habitats around the Lake.

Numerous threats to the area have prompted the development of a conservation plan for the Beaverhill Lake IBA. Continuous drought, for example, has resulted in shallow, warmer waters which, in turn, has caused blooms of bluegreen algae and outbreaks of botulism – both harmful to waterbirds. As well, lower water levels have made Pelican Island accessible to predators, leading to the elimination of pelican and cormorant nesting sites. Landowners have also allowed cattle to graze in the natural area (once secured by fencing), and along the shorelines where the endangered Piping Plovers nest.

The IBA Program is an international conservation initiative coordinated by BirdLife International. The Canadian co-partners for the IBA Program are Birds Canada and Nature Canada.
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