Saskatchewan Whooping Cranes

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Saturday, October 10, 2015 - Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Rudolf Koes

Exceptional birding at a premier birding hotspot!

In mid-October, Sandhill Cranes by the thousands migrate south across southern Saskatchewan, stopping at various localities to refuel before continuing their journey. With them are a handful of Whooping Cranes, coming south from breeding grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories. We have a good chance of finding Whooping Cranes as there is a fine network of field observers scouting the area for these legendary birds. Along with cranes, tens of thousands of Snow Geese and Canada Geese, with lesser numbers of Ross’s and Greater White-fronted Geese, are pouring through, as well as other waterfowl including all three species of scoters, raptors and passerines, especially large flocks of Lapland Longspurs with Snow Buntings and possibly Smith’s Longspurs, and Northern Shrikes.


• Fine selection of Prairie birds and mammals

• Variety of habitat from marshlands, wetlands to mixed-grass prairie

Day 1. Arrival in Saskatchewan

Our tour starts in Saskatoon after supper on Day 1.

Days 2 - 4. Whooping Crane Search

During the following three days, we travel to Last Mountain Lake one day, Miry-Galloway Bay on Lake Diefenbaker on another, and the Outlook-Gardiner Dam-Elbow area on the third. It is almost guaranteed that one or more groups of Whooping Cranes will appear in the Saskatoon area during the tour period.

Our schedule is flexible such that we can alter our itinerary to visit an area where the cranes have touched down. It is most likely that birds will appear southwest of Saskatoon, most likely close to Last Mountain Lake. The National Wildlife Refuge at Last Mountain Lake is a superb area – a mixture of grassland habitat with potholes, springs, fen bogs and saline wetland complexes. The site contains shallow marshy bays and inlets surrounding a large freshwater lake and is recognized as a Migratory Bird Sanctuary, a Ramsar site, and a National Historic Site. The area near Lake Diefenbaker and Gardiner Dam support thousands of Snow Geese each year; the actual fields that the birds occupy shifts from one year to the next, depending upon the type of crop grown the previous summer, but we should have little difficulty in locating the foraging areas for the flocks. Snow Geese will be the most abundant species in these flocks, but there are also groups of Greater White-fronted Geese, Ross’s Geese and several species of ducks. Sandhill Cranes will also be gathering. Raptors of several species will be present, and waves of Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings should be migrating south. Finally, both Sharp-tailed Grouse and Gray Partridge can be conspicuous at this time of the year.

Day 5. Departure

Our tour ends in Saskatoon after breakfast


Date: October 10-14, 2015

Duration: 5 days

Price: $1395 USD + 2.5% GST / $1450 CAD + 5% GST; single supplement $250 USD / $260 CAD + GST

Limit: 12 people

Tour Starts & Ends: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

• Easy walking

•Warm to cool weather

•Good quality accommodation

•Lots of photographic opportunities

•Maximum of 12 people

•One or two leaders

•15-passenger vans

•Four breakfasts and three lunches

We stay in just one location, Saskatoon, for our four nights, which is very convenient. We take day trips to Last Mountain Lake, Lake Diefenbaker and Gardiner Dam, and the prairies in between the lakes. We do not start particularly early, as sunrise at this latitude in October is quite late. Most days will begin with breakfast at about 7:00 a.m., and then we leave for the day with a packed lunch, returning in the late afternoon to our accommodation, although this will vary according to the day’s activities. Driving will be in moderate amounts, and we walk some side roads; however, most birding will be done from the vehicle. We could have cold windy days with snow, and we could have fairly warm days with sunshine. Please dress warmly; bring layers, which can be added or removed as circumstances dictate. Bring warm headgear, scarves and gloves. Have footwear that is both warm and waterproof. We will not be on extended walks unless the weather is sunny and calm. Bring lots of film - photographic opportunities could be excellent. Do not bring mosquito repellent - there won’t be any mosquitoes! Each evening, the list of birds and other wildlife will be reviewed, and plans for the next day will be discussed.