Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Whooping it up in Saskatchewan

Fall in Saskatchewan:  this one has been on our schedule since our first discussion of the “Year”, and we have three target species. Whooping Crane (of course), American Badger and Ord’s Kangaroo Rat. None is guaranteed; we could find them all or strike out.

CrossIron Mills mall is a convenient place to meet for eastern (or northern) outings, and we assemble there early on October 4. Phil drives us toward the provincial border through intermittent ground fog and a wintry zero temperature, and we manage to pick out several “Alberta” Sandhill Cranes along the way. On the Saskatchewan side we continue through Kindersley and Rosetown to Saskatoon where we meet local birder Ron Jensen. He tells us the good news: Whooping Cranes are being seen. Ron and his friend Ray lead us on an hour’s drive and we are treated to a marvelous view of a large group of these endangered birds. Also in the area we find many Sandhills, plus thousands of Snow, “Blue”, Greater White-fronted, Cackling and Canada Geese. The sights and sounds as the flocks take off and land, always with “greetings” to one another, make for a truly a magnificent waterfowl spectacle.
View of the cranes (those white specks!) from the car
Dancing Whooping Cranes with Sandhill Cranes looking on (with telephoto lens)

Ron and Ray expertly guide us to a Saskatoon pub where we toast our good fortune with fine locally-brewed refreshments.
from left to right: Ron, Mike, Ray, Phil, Brian, Ray
Next day: it’s a relief to vacate our too-warm motel rooms. Following breakfast Phil skillfully negotiates a series of detours and we head south for Gardiner Dam. Once again we’re impressed by the sheer numbers of geese and many Tundra Swans. Ross’s Goose is new for the trip and we note an unexpected high count of “Blue” Geese.
Snow Geese
Lake Diefenbaker, which is formed by Gardiner Dam, appears devoid of birdlife. We pass on south to Luck Lake and find yet another mass of geese, old stuff by now. As we drive the track across the lake causeway the front-seat guys spot a mammal trotting ahead. I say “porcupine” but am swiftly corrected. “It’s a badger!”, we whoop as we watch mammal #73, our most-hunted (and most-missed) four-legged critter.
American Badger running away from us
On our way west to Leader a lovely Red Fox poses for photos, but we’ve another mammal in mind. After supper and checking into our mercifully cool rooms we head south and enter the Great Sand Hills Ecological Reserve to search for Ord’s Kangaroo Rat, a small nocturnal rodent. We had missed this one in June, patrolling prairie tracks at midnight near the Empress cemetery on the Alberta – Saskatchewan border.
Red Fox
It’s about 9pm, dark and moonless. In the reserve Ray turns the car into a small parking area where several months ago we spotted a Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel. A tail-up kangaroo rat darts across in the headlights – seen by all – and a moment later another scurries by.

No one expected to hit the trifecta, but it happened. Any or all – crane, badger, rat – could easily have been missed. The drive home the following day is cushioned by memories of our successful prairie visit, and we wonder what lies ahead at Haida Gwaii.
- Mike -


  1. You all must have picked up a lucky penny on your way to Saskatchewan! I would do anything to see a Whooping Crane… sigh. Congratulations and only four species to go!

  2. Nicely done! 3 for 3! I hope you told those Whooping Cranes to hurry on down here to Aransas

  3. Thanks for the comments, Charlotte and Matthew. The Whooping Cranes have been in the same place for 10 days or more ... they don't seem to be in a hurry to get to Texas. Perhaps they'll go via Vermillion and Charlotte can pick them up on her big sit (hope you have better weather than Calgary has now). Brian