Spatial and Temporal Distribution and Abundance of the Franklin’s Gull in the Canadian Prairie Provinces: 2005-2007
- 1.0 Introduction
- 2.0 Methods
- 3.0 Results
- 4.0 Discussion
- 5.0 Conclusions
- 6.0 Acknowledgments
- 7.0 Bibliography
- 8.0 Appendix 1. Scientific names of birds and plants encountered during the Franklin’s Gull surveys 2005–2007
- 8.0 Appendix 2. Data collection form for wetland inventory of Franklin’s Gulls and other waterbird species
- 8.0 Appendix 3. Field key for waterbody inventory information during Franklin’s Gull surveys in the Prairie provinces: 2005–2007
- 8.0 Appendix 4. Text excerpts from Beyersbergen and Gingras (2006) on the landscape-level use and characterization by Franklin’s Gulls around breeding colonies in Alberta and Saskatchewan
- 8.0 Appendix 5. The location (latitude and longitude), wetland type, water level stage, wetland vegetation cover type, and a listing of waterbird species observed on wetlands visited during surveys for Franklin’s Gull colonies in Alberta 2005–2007
- 8.0 Appendix 6. The location (latitude and longitude), wetland type, water level stage, wetland vegetation cover type, and a listing of waterbird species observed on wetlands visited during surveys for Franklin’s Gull colonies in Saskatchewan 2006−2007
- 8.0 Appendix 7. Location (latitude and longitude), wetland type, water level stage, wetland vegetation cover type, and waterbird species observed on wetlands visited during surveys for Franklin’s Gull colonies in Manitoba 2005–2007
- 8.0 Appendix 8. History of Franklin’s Gull colonies in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba - Part 1
- 8.0 Appendix 8. History of Franklin’s Gull colonies in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba - Part 2
- 8.0 Appendix 9. Franklin’s gull colonies found or revisited in 2008 to confirm status
Appendix 8. History of Franklin’s Gull colonies in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba - Part 2
- 1.0 Introduction
- 2.0 Methods
- 3.0 Results
- 3.1 Alberta Lakes
- 3.1.1 Big Lake
- 3.1.2 Big Hay Lake and Bittern Lake
- 3.1.3 Buffalo Lake
- 3.1.4 Duck Lake (basin within Hay-Zama Lakes Wetland Complex)
- 3.1.5 Egg Lake (near the hamlet of Eaglesham)
- 3.1.6 Ferguson Lake
- 3.1.7 Frank Lake
- 3.1.8 Isle Lake
- 3.1.9 Lac La Biche
- 3.1.10 Lesser Slave Lake
- 3.1.11 Mamawi Lake (basin within the Peace Athabasca Delta)
- 3.1.12 Manawan Lake
- 3.1.13 Minor Lake (also referred to as Kininvie)
- 3.1.14 Moose, Jessie, and Charlotte lakes
- 3.1.15 North and South Murray lakes
- 3.1.16 Stirling Lake
- 3.1.17 Stobart Lake
- 3.1.18 Taber Lake
- 3.1.19 Third Lake
- 3.1.20 Upper Therien Lake
- 3.1.21 Utikuma Lake
- 3.1.22 Winagami Lake
- 3.2 Saskatchewan Lakes
- 3.2.1 Bloodsucker and Egg lakes (basins in the Cumberland Delta)
- 3.2.2 Crane Lake
- 3.2.3 Englishman Lake
- 3.2.4 Eyebrow Lake
- 3.2.5 Foam Lake
- 3.2.6 Goose Lake
- 3.2.7 Maiden Lake
- 3.2.8 Middle Quill Lake
- 3.2.9 Old Wives Lake
- 3.2.10 Pelican Lake (north) / Waterhen Marsh
- 3.2.11 Stalwart Marsh
- 3.2.12 Volk wetland (basin we named after the Landowner)
- 3.3 Manitoba Lakes
- 3.1 Alberta Lakes
- 4.0 Conclusions
- 5.0 References
3.2 Saskatchewan Lakes
3.2.1 Bloodsucker and Egg Lakes (Basins in the Cumberland Delta)
The Cumberland Marsh is a complex of marshes, bogs, levees and lakes that includes Bloodsucker and Egg lakes (Hart and Davis 1975). Water levels are controlled on individual lakes and wetlands, to some degree depending on annual precipitation and flooding of the Saskatchewan River, by a series of dykes, channels and water control structures. Construction of these first structures was by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1938, with later upgrades and expansion by Ducks Unlimited Canada, starting in 1961. One BBS route runs along the road north of the Cumberland marsh leading east into Cumberland House. It was run only three years, but the counts of >100 birds in the early 2000s tie into the period (Fig. 17) when colonies of nesting Franklin’s Gulls were reported to be occupying a couple of lakes within the marsh complex.
We were unable to locate any historic information on the occurrence of Franklin’s Gulls within the marsh, and recent observations are limited to local residents working on the marsh complex. A breeding colony (1000−1500 adults) was located on Egg Lake in 2006, but higher water levels in 2007 made the emergent vegetation beds unsuitable for nesting and the site was not used that year (Gilbert Crane, DUC, pers. comm.). Gilbert Crane observed a large colony (1,000s) of Franklin’s Gulls nesting on Bloodsucker Lake in 2003 and 2004, but flooding of the entire Cumberland marsh complex by the Saskatchewan River in 2005 eliminated any potential nesting habitat that year. No nesting birds were observed in 2006, and during our 2007 visit, we only observed 20 non-breeding adults in the area of the old Bloodsucker Lake colony site.
3.2.2 Crane Lake
Crane Lake, located north of the TransCanada Highway between Tompkins and Maple Creek in southwest Saskatchewan, is now a small part of what was once a 4,450-hectare lake on the prairie landscape. The first naturalist to visit the lake was J. Macoun in 1880, who noted the lake was characterized as liquid mud with scarcely an inch of water on the surface (Houston 1983). He collected five species of gulls at what is believed to be Crane Lake, but no indication if one was a Franklin’s Gull. In 1905, Bent visited the marsh observing “a number of Eared Grebe nests and a fair-sized colony of Franklin’s Gulls”. That year, Bent also observed a colony estimated at 20,000 nests in the bulrush of a wetland called Lake of the Narrows, about 8 km southeast of Crane Lake near Sidewood. Water levels were high in 1929, suitable for operation of a large motor launch on the lake, but by 1933 water levels were low and stagnant and in 1935 only pools of water remained. The lake was recharged in 1951 when a couple of dams on adjoining creeks broke and flooded the basin (Houston 1983). The ephemeral nature of the prairies was evident with the ever-changing water conditions on Crane Lake.
There is one BBS route near Crane Lake. It runs north-south on the east side of the lake and comes within 10 km at its closest point. Although it was first run in 1990, Franklin’s Gulls were not observed until the fifth survey in 1994 (Fig. 18). No surveys were run from 1996 to 2005,, but when they were resumed, the highest count recorded to date was in 2006.
Ducks Unlimited Canada initiated a project on Crane Lake in 1981 that confined the remaining water to smaller, but deeper basins by means of a large series of dykes surrounding the basin. Water conditions were still quite variable depending on the annual precipitation and the resultant runoff. Prior to the construction of the dyke network, an environmental impact statement was completed that mentions the presence of Franklin’s Gulls on the site, but no indication of breeding or numbers of birds (B. Neufeldt, DUC, pers. comm.). In a visit to the site in 2006, we observed and visually estimated a large colony of nesting Franklin’s Gulls (~5,000 adults), but the landscape surrounding the outside perimeter of the dyke was flooded, which prohibited our accessing the dyke. Drier conditions in 2007 allowed access on the dyke, and we were able to map and survey the colony, which was much larger than estimated the previous year. Water levels in the early 2000s on Crane Lake were apparently low (local landowners, pers. comm.), which resulted in extensive growth of emergent vegetation and a dense band of bulrush ringed the outer boundary of the basin confined within the dyke network. After traversing the dense stand of bulrush, we found the central portion of the basin to consist of moderate density bulrush beds with patchy open water areas where the Franklin’s Gulls were nesting.
The main threat to the area would be long-term drought and loss of the wetland habitat. There is some petrochemical extraction in the area, but the threat would be minimal to the wetland.
3.2.3 Englishman Lake
This small lake, located in the aspen parkland region of western Saskatchewan, is situated in an old glacial river channel. The area is primarily private grazing lands with extensive heavy-oil extraction involving pumping stations and large storage tanks. Numerous storage tanks are located along the east and west shorelines of the lake. The oil from these tanks is pumped into truck on a regular basis, resulting in extensive heavy traffic within close proximity to the colony.
The construction of a control structure of sheet-pile design with four stoplog bays, by Ducks Unlimited Canada in 1991 on the north end helps regulate the water levels in the basin (B. Chappell, DUC, pers. comm.). Observations during our field study show that water levels are still dependent on sufficient runoff and annual precipitation to maintain adequate water in the lake. The lake has extensive beds of bulrush and cattail used by the nesting gulls. The colony occupied the emergent beds on the south end of the lake in 2006, but with higher water levels in 2007 most of the southern area emergent beds were flooded out. The colony, in 2007, was comprised of two areas including birds nesting in the remaining emergents in the south and previously unoccupied emergent vegetation beds in the north end of the lake.
The Turtleford BBS route comes within 2 km of the lake, and runs northwest. It was surveyed annually 1976−1985, with the highest number of Franklin’s Gulls sighted in 1976 (Fig. 19). The Frenchman Butte route starts 14 km to the west and continues west. It was run four times from 1994−1998. The St. Walburg route is 25 km to the north and was first run in 2004.
We were unable to locate any references to Franklin’s Gulls. However, B. MacFarlane (DUC) noted the presence of Franklin’s Gulls on the lake during a survey of the area in 1976 (B. Chappell, pers. comm.). In 2006, we had discussions with a local landholder who indicated that Franklin’s Gulls have been nesting on the lake at least since the 1950s. He also indicated there were some years when water conditions were poor and no birds were using the lake.
3.2.4 Eyebrow Lake
Eyebrow Lake, which is 9 km long and 1 km wide or approximately 900 ha in area, is located in the mid-grass prairie region of south-central Saskatchewan in the upper Qu’Appelle valley just below the southeast dam site on Lake Diefenbaker. The lake, running parallel to the Qu’Appelle River, comprises three separate basins or impoundments created by a series of dykes in 1968 with control structures to manage water levels. Eyebrow Lake represents one of the region’s most significant permanent marshes (IBA website). The lake has abundant emergent growth including bulrush and cattail as well as extensive areas of open water.
There are two BBS routes coming within 13 and 16 km of the lake, but heading away north and south respectively. The Bladworth route has been run annually for all but three years from 1969 to 2007, with few observations of Franklin’s Gulls. The Parkbeg route, run only five times has had numerous gulls observed since 1975 (Fig. 20). It is interesting to note that these routes did not pick up the high numbers of birds using the colony in the early 2000s.
An estimated 2000 pairs of breeding Franklin’s Gulls were observed on Eyebrow Lake in 1992 (Roy 1996). Soos (2004), during a three-year study on the breeding colony on the lake, estimated the adult breeding population at 20,000 pairs (1999), 34,000 pairs (2000) and 26,500 pairs (2001). Nest density was quite variable during the three years (1.17 nests/100 m² , 2.43 nests/100 m²  and 1.70 nests/100 m² ). In 2007, during our study, nest density was estimated at 1.1 nests/100 m² and the adult population estimated at about 12,600 pairs.
Saigeon and Hepworth (DUC biologists) documented the Black-crowned Night-Heron as a breeding species on the lake in 1993 and 1994, when nesting colonies were located totalling 30 and 50 nests for each respective year (Roy 1996). Greater numbers of breeding Black-crowned Night-Herons were observed on extensive nesting colonies during the lake surveys in 2006– 2007.
Ducks Unlimited Canada currently manages water levels in the lake through use of the control structures, and the resultant stability of the wetland is evident in its long-term use by nesting waterbirds. However, the wetland has a history of avian botulism outbreaks with the IBA website recording a period of outbreaks on the lake from 1988−1992. Eyebrow Lake is recognized as an Important Bird Area for Congregatory Species (IBA website).
3.2.5 Foam Lake
Foam Lake Marsh, located in the aspen parkland region of east-central Saskatchewan and northwest of the Town of Foam Lake, is an intermittent saline wetland. Water levels in the wetland are managed by a series of dykes and water control structures, developed by Ducks Unlimited Canada in 1985, that encompass approximately 1600 ha when the wetland is at full supply of water. The entire marsh complex including uplands and wetland totals 2630 ha in area (Quill Lakes region website). The marsh is located in an agricultural landscape dotted with aspen bluffs. Prior to the establishment of the control structure, water levels varied dramatically, with periods when the area was completely flooded to times when the lake bottom was dry and cut for hay (A. Goodman, CWS retired, pers. comm.).
Foam Lake is 51 km from Mud Lake, but no BBS routes have been established near it. In the 1960s, a Franklin’s Gull nesting colony was observed by a pilot flying over the lake (Houston and Anaka 2003). A. Goodman (CWS retired, pers. comm.) grew up on a farm adjacent to Foam Lake and talked about nesting Franklin’s Gulls on the lake in the 1950s and 1960s when water conditions were suitable. A wildlife study of the marsh in 1974 noted four species of gulls were observed in the area with probable breeding but no indication of which gull species. Three nesting colonies of Black-crowned Night-Herons were also observed that year. C. Deschamps (DUC, pers. comm.) notes the presence of a breeding colony of Franklin’s Gulls on the northeast basin of Foam Lake in the 1990s but no indication of numbers. Limited nesting took place in 2006, but an estimated 10,000 adults were on the lake during our visit. A nesting colony was present in 2007 in the bulrush bed that had been flooded the previous year.
The Foam Lake marsh is the third wetland identified and protected under the Saskatchewan Heritage Marsh Agreement. It is identified as an Important Bird Area, classified as Nationally Significant for Waterfowl and Wading Birds. An observation tower is located on the northwest corner of the marsh complex with educational signage indicating an active conservation and education program for the wetland. The main conservation issue in the area is drought due to lack of spring runoff from the snow pack or low precipitation during the summer months. The extreme has been excessive runoff flooding the emergent vegetation for a period of time until the outflow is capable of removing the excess water. Such was the case in 2006 during our visit to the wetland when the majority of the emergent vegetation and island in the marsh were under water.
3.2.6 Goose Lake
Goose Lake is located in the mixed-grass prairie ecodistrict about 43 km northeast of Rosetown in a agricultural landscape composed of cultivated fields and pasture/hay lands. The east side of Goose Lake is part of a provincial grazing cooperative while the west side is primarily cultivated fields. The lake is approximately 9.5 km long by 4.5 km wide. The emergent vegetation is primarily bulrush with some small stands of cattail. Local residents talk about the lake experiencing extreme water level fluctuations depending on snow melt and annual precipitation. They also mention increased numbers of birds in the area during grasshopper outbreaks in the past. During the two years of our study, the water level rose in the second year, flooding areas of low-lying pasture and opening up an area within the extensive bulrush beds along the east side of the lake.
There are two BBS routes near Goose Lake. The Delisle route comes within 16 km of the lake on the east side. It was run regularly from 1974–1994, but only once since then (Fig. 21). There were peaks in observations in the mid-1970s, the mid-1980s, and the mid-1990s. The Bounty route is more than 25 km away at its nearest point and runs south of the lake, then east, but in 2003 and 2005 it also had high numbers of Franklin’s Gulls.
We were unable to locate any references to nesting Franklin’s Gulls on Goose Lake, but there are references to a colony on Rice Lake about 30 km northeast of Goose Lake. The Rice Lake nesting colony (325 nests) was reported as early as 1966 by R.T. Stirling (Leighton et al. 2002) and contained at least 3,000 adults in 1990 (W. Renaud, pers. comm.). Visits to Rice Lake during our two-year study showed that high water levels on the lake removed all the emergent vegetation and removed all potential nesting cover for Franklin’s Gulls. We are not aware of when the shift occurred from Rice Lake to Goose Lake. In his research for an update on the book Birds of the Biggar/Rosetown Area, W. Renaud (pers. comm.) did not come across any historical records or make any observations of nesting activity on Goose Lake; and M. Houston (Leighton et al. 2002) does not mention Franklin’s Gull nesting activity at Goose Lake. The close proximity of the two lakes and the two BBS routes near Goose and Rice lakes make it difficult to be sure which lake was used by Franklin’s Gulls observed on the routes. The colony on Goose Lake in 2006 and 2007 was the largest colony in Saskatchewan at 66,000 and 104,000 adults, respectively. The bulrush beds on the lake are extensive and provide ideal nesting cover for a variety of other waterbird species as well as Franklin’s Gulls.
The main threat to the lake would be the effects of long-term drought on water levels on the lake. There may be some potential for agricultural chemical runoff from cultivated lands to the west. The landscape to the east is primarily grazing land contained within the regulation of a provincial grazing pasture, but the remainder of the landscape is under private ownership. Environment Canada has a quarter section of land (NW 5, Tp32, R10, W3) on the southeast part of the lake that is identified as Prairie National Wildlife Area Unit 8, which provides some level of protection (Jurick, 1983).
3.2.7 Maiden Lake
It is located in the aspen parkland region of northwest Saskatchewan about 11 km northwest of the Town of Glaslyn. Pastures with aspen bluffs surround the lake and land ownership is completely private. The lake is susceptible to drought conditions, as is evident by the presence of a large dugout on the southwest corner of the wetland. Water conditions were good in 2007 and extensive areas of the pasture were flooded.
We were unable to find any references to Franklin’s Gulls on the lake in any literature. However, D. Hooey (Ducks Unlimited Canada) reported a colony with 1800 nests in 1976 (A. Smith, CWS retired, pers. comm.). When we first checked the wetland in 2006, we observed a large colony of nesting Franklin’s Gulls (~10,000 adults). We did not get on the lake because of logistical and access permission problems. Because of the higher water levels in 2007, access to the lake was feasible and the landowner granted us permission to cross his land to the lake. The increased water levels in 2007 expanded the area of suitable habitat in the bulrush bed, which enabled a very large colony to establish on the site (~73,000 adults).
Maiden is less than 50 km from Englishman Lake, so some of the Franklin’s Gulls observed on BBS routes near one lake could have been from the colony of the other lake. The Brightsand route begins 14 km to the northwest and continues northwest. It has been run almost every year 1979–2006, with peaks in Franklin’s Gulls in 1981, 1992–1994, and 2004 (Fig. 22). The Edam route begins 22 km southwest of the lake and runs southwest then south. It has been surveyed annually 1991–2007, with peak observations in 1991 and 1998 (Fig. 22).
3.2.8 Middle Quill Lake
Middle Quill Lake, referred to locally as Mud Lake (1,289 ha), is located 16 km due north of Wynyard in east-central Saskatchewan between Little and Big Quill lakes. Big Quill, the largest and furthest west of the three, is the largest saline lake in Canada (IBA website). All three are extremely shallow and do not have an outlet. The shoreline is gravely or muddy, and surrounded by grasslands, aspen parkland, and numerous freshwater marshes.
There is one BBS route, coming within 24 km of the lake on the west side. The route was only run between 1972 and 1983, and few Franklin’s Gulls were observed (Fig. 23). No reference to nesting by Franklin’s Gulls was found in published or unpublished literature for Middle Quill Lake. Todd (1947) noted many immature Franklin’s Gulls on the Quill Lakes (no reference to specific location) during a bird specimen-collecting trip in late June. Houston (1962) visited Middle Quill Lake during the period from 1956 to 1961 to check the nesting islands for colonial waterbirds. He gives no mention of any occurrence of Franklin’s Gulls during this period. However, he does mention that water levels were dropping in the basin in 1958–1959 and that the basin was dry in 1960. C. Deschamps (DUC, pers. comm.) noted the existence of a colony on the northwest corner of “Mud” Lake since the 1990s, but with only about 300 pairs. A colony of about 45,000 adults was observed nesting in the northwest corner of the basin in 2006. Excessively high water levels in 2007 destroyed that emergent vegetation bed, and the small colony (several hundred birds) relocated to the only suitable habitat on the northeast corner of the basin.
Little and Big Quill lakes, with their extensive mud flats and shallow water areas along the shoreline, are important for shorebird staging and breeding as well as waterfowl breeding. The islands used by nesting gulls, American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) and Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) are provincial wildlife refuges. In 1987, the lakes were used as the first implementation site for the North American Waterfowl Management Plan in Canada. The site has also been included in the Saskatchewan Heritage Marsh Program. The two larger lakes tend to have a higher salinity and lack any significant areas of emergent vegetation. Middle Quill is the only one of the three with extensive beds of bulrush along the shoreline suitable for nesting by over-water nesting waterbirds.
Threats to the site include agricultural pollution and water-level fluctuations as well as disease outbreaks, including botulism. Botulism outbreaks have been sporadic with a small die-off of ducks in 2007 and a large one in the mid-1990s of 5,000 waterfowl (C. Deschamps, pers. comm.).
3.2.9 Old Wives Lake
Old Wives Lake is a relatively shallow, intermittent saline lake of approximately 33,020 hectares located southwest of Moose Jaw in southern Saskatchewan. Most of the shoreline is rocky with a sand/silt base. A dam on the Wood River as it enters Old Wives Lake, constructed by Ducks Unlimited Canada, created a large marsh upstream and a variable-size and very diverse marsh downstream. The Wood River delta on the west end, which is heavily vegetated with bulrush and cattail, constitutes the main emergent vegetation growth in the lake except for small scattered patches around the shore. The minimal topographic relief throughout the basin results in large expanses of mudflats and shallow water areas occurring during the summer months when water levels drawdown through evaporation (Jurick 1985). Typical of a prairie lake, there are years when the lake is nearly or completely dry, as was the case in the late 1980s, but exceptional spring runoff in 1997 filled the lake to near capacity. Water levels were receding lately, and in 2007, the colony on the Wood River delta was abandoned because water was too shallow in the emergent vegetation.
There are three BBS routes near Old Wives Lake. The Courval and Wood River routes begin about 15 km from the lake and run north and west respectively. The Mitchellton route is 29 km to the southeast at its closest point. The peak number of Franklin’s Gull observations (Fig. 24) coincides with the observation of activity on the colony at the Wood River delta in the 2000s, and it is possible that there may have been some nesting activity in the mid-1970s.
We were unable to locate any references to Franklin’s Gull nesting on Old Wives Lake. Harrold (1933) mentions large evening flights of Franklin’s Gulls along the east shore of Lake Johnston (Old Wives Lake) during the period of May 10–21, but no indication of any record of nesting. A large colony of Western Grebes and Franklin’s Gulls (1000s) were observed on the west end of Old Wives Lake during an airboat survey of the lake by Environment Canada biologists in the early 2000s (P. Taylor, pers. comm.). During a visit to Old Wives Lake in June 2005, we observed a large colony of nesting Franklin’s Gulls (several thousand) in the emergent vegetation on the west end of the lake. Water levels were lower in 2006, and approximately 1000 adult Franklin’s Gulls were observed nesting in scattered locations across the delta. In 2007, no nesting colony was active in the delta area and exposed mud flats were evident along the emergent vegetation.
The lakebed is provincial Crown land and the surrounding land is under lease to local landowners for cattle grazing. Old Wives Lake was established as a Migratory Bird Sanctuary on March 9, 1925, and as such, the lake is protected under the federal Migratory Bird Sanctuary regulations (Environment Canada website). The Isle of Bays, an island in the northeast part of the lake, is also protected by Provincial Wildlife Refuge Regulations under the Saskatchewan Wildlife Act because of the presence of colonial nesting birds on the island (Jurick, 1985). The lake has also been identified as a Important Bird Area under various categories (IBA website).
3.2.10 Pelican Lake (North)/Waterhen Marsh
Pelican Lake (north) is a small wetland in a predominantly agricultural landscape surrounded by private land in central Saskatchewan. It is located approximately 1 km east of Domremy or 45 km south of Prince Albert. It is approximately 2.5 km² in size and has a scattering of bulrush bed throughout the wetland, with the largest patch in the central portion of the basin. A viewpoint on a high hill on the north side of the lake along the roadway provides a good visual of the entire basin.
Waterhen Marsh, 43 km east of Pelican Lake, is located in a wholly agricultural landscape and situated about 8 km south of the Town of Kinistino or 27 km west of the City of Melfort. Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) began their conservation efforts in Saskatchewan with the Waterhen Marsh project in 1938. A dam, approximately 1.5 km in width, was constructed on the north end of the marsh, and water levels are regulated by means of a stoplog control structure in the dam. Lake levels are still dependant on the annual snow melt and annual precipitation in the area.
The Wakaw BBS route starts about 6 km south of the lake then goes south. It has been run annually 1970–2006. Franklin’s Gulls were numerous in the mid-1970s, but rare or absent in the 1990s and later (Fig. 25). The Birch Hills route starts 11 km north of the lake, goes north, then east. It was first run in 1989 and has been run annually to 2006. It had peaks of observations of Franklin’s Gulls in 1989 and 1997, then none till 2005 (Fig. 25). Waterhen Marsh, east of Pelican Lake, includes the Birch Hills route within its 30-km radius. The close proximity of the lakes and BBS routes makes it difficult to differentiate which lake the birds on the Birch Hills route are using.
We did not find references to Franklin’s Gull use of the Pelican Lake wetland in any literature. The Franklin’s Gull nesting colony was observed in the bulrush bed in the centre of the basin in 2006 and 2007. The colony site on the water was not accessed, but we estimated 1,500 and 1,000 adults respectively in each of the consecutive years.
Furniss observed a large nesting colony on Waterhen Lake near Kinistino in early June 1934 (Houston and Street 1959). Houston and Street (1959) cite another reference to Waterhen Marsh having an active breeding colony, but give no date. The most recent observation of nesting Franklin’s Gulls was during our study, in which a colony was observed in 2006 (~25,000 adults) and again in 2007 (~9,000 adults).
In 2004, Waterhen Marsh was dry, and landowners seeded the lake bottom to nearly 800 acres of barley (local landowner, pers. comm.). Drought has serious implications for this wetland, as well as high water levels that destroy the emergent vegetation nesting cover, as was the case in 2007. Conservation of the Pelican Lake basin would be in the hands of the local landholders, and threats to the site are likely to include drought and possible contamination by agricultural chemical runoff.
3.2.11 Stalwart Marsh
Stalwart Marsh is located along the west side of Last Mountain Lake near the north end adjacent to the Town of Stalwart. It is surrounded by gently rolling grasslands and cultivated farmlands. Water levels are largely dependent upon small streams leading into the marsh and local precipitation events. A dam on the outlet of the south unit of the wetland, and a stream diversion and dam leading to the centre unit provide additional spring runoff to the marsh and make it a more permanent marsh. Extensive beds of bulrush, cattail, phragmites and whitetop dominate the large wetlands.
Girvin is the only BBS route within the 30 km radius of Stalwart Marsh, but it has never been run. Fred Bard banded a Franklin’s Gull, unknown age, on 4 July 1936 on Stalwart Marsh, but there is no notation if it was on a nesting colony (R. Dickson, pers. comm.). Dewey Soper visited Big Arm Bay on Last Mountain Lake in 1942, 1943, and 1946 and noted “every evening a stream of straggling flocks of Franklin’s Gulls followed each other from the direction of Stalwart Marsh…” (R. Dickson, pers. comm.). The evening flight would indicate they were travelling to a roost site or colony, so nesting likely was not occurring on Stalwart Marsh at that time. J.R. Caldwell (1984) in an annotated list of birds of Stalwart noted Franklin’s Gull as a summer visitor and possible resident, but has no record of breeding on the site. There was a nesting colony in 1982 at the mouth of Lanigan creek on Last Mountain Lake about 22 km northeast of Stalwart (P. Taylor, pers. comm.). Franklin’s Gulls were nesting on Stalwart Marsh in 2005, when a large colony was observed in the emergent vegetation (P. Taylor, pers. comm.). High water levels in the spring of 2006 flooded out the majority of the emergent vegetation in the central basin, and a small colony of Franklin’s Gulls was observed nesting along with the Eared Grebes. We estimated approximately 3,000 adults in the area, while fewer than 100 birds were actually nesting. A survey of the main basin Stalwart Marsh in January 2007 resulted in observations of 45 muskrat houses (125 houses on the entire marsh) and numerous “muskrat push-ups.” The May visit in 2007 found the site unchanged except for higher water levels, no emergent vegetation, and no nesting Franklin’s Gulls. The muskrat activity could account for the lack of emergent vegetation although no houses were visible during the May survey.
This is a National Wildlife Area and is important for spring and fall staging for waterfowl, shorebirds, and songbirds. Intensive cropping and grazing have been the major threats to the wildlife habitat of the area. The Canadian Wildlife Service acquired the marsh and adjacent uplands in 1969 to protect them from encroachment. Ducks Unlimited Canada began marsh development on the wetland in 1938, the third project in Saskatchewan.
3.2.12 Volk Wetland (Basin we named after the landowner)
A small wetland approximately 15 km north of Kerrobert along the west side of Highway 21 had a small colony of nesting Franklin’s Gulls (~1,500 adults) in the bulrush habitat. The wetland is in an agricultural landscape with a mix of cultivated fields and pastureland and hayfields. Only one BBS route has been run near the Volk Wetland, and only for four years. Franklin’s Gulls were seen in two of those years (Fig. 26). The first indication of a colony in the area in 2007 was the presence of feeding birds 15–20 km north of the wetland. We are not aware of any historical nesting records for Franklin’s gulls for this wetland. The wetland was first located in 2007 and only visited the one time during our surveys.
The greatest conservation threat to the wetland would be drought, drainage and potential conversion of the site to agricultural cropland. Agricultural chemical runoff could be a concern for this wetland.
3.3 Manitoba Lakes
3.3.1 Big Grass Marsh
Large, dense stands of Phragmites communis (cane grass) made it unattractive for agriculture, but pressure for agricultural land and flooding of the Big Grass River led to a dredge channel that was completed in 1916. Further demands for development led to Big Grass Marsh becoming the first Ducks Unlimited project to restore wetland habitat in Canada, initiated in 1938. The Big Grass Marsh complex comprises Jackfish Lake to the north and Chandler Lake to the south. In subsequent year, the channel was enhanced, and dams with water control structures were constructed or enhanced to manage water levels in the complex. Aside from runoff from the surrounding landscape, which is dominated by agriculture (cultivation, pasture and hay lands), water flows into the marsh from the south through a channel connected to the Whitemud River. The primary emergent vegetation used by Franklin’s Gulls is cattail and some hard-stem bulrush. Big Grass Marsh is a game bird or wildlife refuge and a Wildlife Management Area. It is currently a candidate Heritage Marsh. As such, it receives some protection from the provincial government. The complex is 5,000 ha in size with half of the area under control as Crown lands.
On August 2, 1943, 5,000 Franklin’s Gulls were observed on Jackfish Lake (Boothroyd et al. 1977). A nesting colony was observed on the north side of Jackfish Lake in May 1963 (Boothroyd et al. 1977). In 1977, approximately 250 pairs of Franklin’s Gulls established a colony in a bed of hard-stem Bulrush on the south edge of Jackfish Lake. The colony was flooded out in July. (Boothroyd et al. 1977). In 2007, Jackfish Lake had several nesting colonies scattered along the north end in the cattail beds, and we estimated the adult population at nearly 36,000 individuals. No BBS routes are run within a 30 km radius of Big Grass Marsh, but the Westbourne route near Delta Marsh runs south of the marsh, and some of the birds nesting on Big Grass may be observed on this route (see Fig. 27).
The marsh has a history of botulism outbreaks and unusually high precipitation events can flood out the emergent vegetation and nesting gulls.
3.3.2 Delta Marsh/Lake Francis
Delta Marsh, 16,000 ha in size, is a large wetland composed of wide shallow bays, sloughs and meadows (IBA website) located on the south end of Lake Manitoba. The majority of the wetland is provincial Crown land administered by the Wildlife Branch of the Manitoba Department of Natural Resources. It is also designated as a Heritage Marsh (16,600 ha).
Lake Francis, a Wildlife Management Area, is part of the Delta Heritage Marsh and is located on the southeast end of Lake Manitoba (Manitoba Conservation–website). The lake and adjacent hay lands are protected under provincial regulations governing wildlife management areas. The lake is a maze of cattail beds interspersed with open water areas. The northeast corner is a large open water area with cottage development along the north shore, a beach ridge that separates Lake Francis from Lake Manitoba. With the cottage development along the north shore, recreational activities may potentially be a threat to the colony.
C. Broley estimated over 5,000 nests at a Delta colony in June 1933 (Taylor 2003). Franklin’s Gulls were reported as abundant nesters in the Delta marsh, but no numbers were identified, and they subsisted largely on grasshoppers in the summers when this type of prey was abundant (Nice 1962). A nesting colony was observed on the marsh during a visit in 2006, but no estimates of size were made.
Surveys conducted on Lake Francis by regional biological staff as part of a natural resources inventory in 1995 noted the Franklin’s Gull as a common species, but found no evidence of nesting on the lake. Rather, it was suspected that the birds observed were likely nesting on the nearby Lake Manitoba marshes (Nash 1995). A small but active nesting colony was found in 2006 along the edge of a large cattail bed near the large open water area in the northeast, but no Franklin’s Gulls were found nesting on the lake during our 2007 visit.
The Delta Beach BBS route begins about 5 km from the marsh and runs southwest. It has been run 1989–2007 with only two years missed, but Franklin’s Gulls are not often observed (Fig. 27). The most observations were in 1992. The Westbourne route has been surveyed 1995–2007. It is 26 km west of Delta Marsh and more than 30 km south of Big Grass Marsh, yet more Franklin’s Gulls have been observed along it in most years (Fig. 27), with peaks in 1996 and 2005.
Threats include development for recreation along the fringe areas, diversion of water and drainage water-level fluctuations (IBA website). Water-level regulation on Lake Manitoba has degraded the marsh habitat over the past numbers of years.
3.3.3 Glenboro Marsh
Glenboro Marsh, about 4 km south of the Town of Glenboro, is divided into two components, with the east being larger and more heavily vegetated while the west is less vegetated with more standing open water. The east basin has extensive beds of cattail that cover most of the basin and is not well suited for nesting Franklin’s Gulls or other waterbird species. The west basin has emergent beds of cattail that are broken up by areas of open water, creating an edge effect that is well suited to and used by nesting Franklin’s Gulls. The surrounding landscape, completely under private ownership, is agricultural with a mix of cultivated fields and hay/pasture lands.
No BBS routes were found within the 30 km radius of Glenboro Marsh although the Croll BBS route on Lizard Lake does come near the eastern boundary limit. Franklin’s Gulls were observed in a nesting colony of about 2,000 pairs on Glenboro marsh in 1983 (Kopachena 1987). A visit to the site in 2006 and 2007 resulted in further documentation of nesting on the wetland complex. In 2007, the east colony (~1,000 adults) was limited to a few open water areas with nesting Franklin’s Gulls located on the edge in the new growth cattail. The west colony habitat was more suitable with a mix of cattail and bulrush, and colony size was much larger (~8,700 adults).
The potential for agricultural chemical runoff could affect the colony, but drought is likely the greatest threat to the existence of the colonies on the east and west basins. The continued growth of the dense cattail beds on the east basin may eventually eliminate any suitable nesting habitat for Franklin’s Gulls.
3.3.4 Lizard Lake
Lizard Lake is an isolated wetland varying in size from 500–1,000 ha, depending on water conditions in a landscape that is totally dominated by agriculture. Water levels are regulated by construction of a weir with a water control structure on the east side of the wetland and under Ducks Unlimited Canada management. It is also a candidate Heritage Marsh.
The Jordan BBS route is 29 km east of the lake, running north. It has been surveyed nearly every year 1967–2007, with inconsistent observations of Franklin’s Gulls in the 1970s, none in the early 1980s, and a peak in 1988. The Holland route is 24 km to the northwest, and comes within 30 km of Glenboro Marsh. It has been surveyed 1989–2007, with a peak in Franklin’s Gulls observations in 1996. The Graysville route runs east-west 26 km north of the lake. Few Franklin’s Gulls were observed after it was begun in 1995, until more than 200 were observed in 2006 (Fig. 28).
Franklin’s Gull nesting colonies have been identified in the past, but there is no reference as to when they were active (Manitoba Conservation–website). There was an active Franklin’s Gull colony (~5,300 adults) in 2007, and it was located in the new cattail growth found between the edge of the dense, old growth cattail and areas of open water.
Threats to the area include drought and continued growth of the dense cattail beds that are unsuitable for nesting Franklin’s Gulls. Agricultural chemical runoff could be an issue from the surrounding landscape.
3.3.5 Oak Hammock Marsh
The Oak Hammock Marsh Wildlife Management Area is a 3600-ha restored wetland. The marsh is a remnant of the once vast St. Andrews Bog set between the Stonewall ridge to the west and the lower Selkirk ridge to the east. Early attempts at drainage all but eliminated the marsh, but it was restored through the construction of dykes and water control structures and comprises six wetland cells or impoundments. The marsh is surrounded by remnants of tall-grass prairie and formerly cultivated areas that have been seeded to nesting cover (Manitoba Conservation– website). Water levels are manipulated to manage open water areas and the amount and density of emergent vegetation growth within the various cells. An interpretation centre is located on the southwest corner of the complex run by Ducks Unlimited Canada and the Government of Manitoba. It has been identified as an Important Bird Area for a number of species including the Franklin’s Gull.
The Riverside BBS route is located within 14 km of the marsh. It was run 1967–2005, with peaks in observations of Franklin’s Gulls in the early 1990s and the mid-2000s (Fig. 29). The Tyndall route has been run almost as frequently, 1968–2007, and although closer to the marsh, starting 8 km to the east, tended to record fewer Franklin’s Gulls in more recent years, though more in the 1970s. The Stonewall route runs southwest of the marsh, about 14 km away. It was first surveyed in 2006 (Fig. 29).
Surveys of colonial nesting waterbirds were conducted across southern Manitoba in 1979, and a colony of 2000 nests was reported on Oak Hammock Marsh (Koonz and Rakowski 1985) and estimated at 5,500 breeding pairs in 1995 (IBA website, Taylor 2003). An active colony was located in one of the cells in 2005 and 2006. During our visit in 2007, no nesting colony was located but about 200 Franklin’s Gulls were observed foraging above one of the cells.
The area is surrounded by privately owned agricultural lands and urban/industrial development is a concern (IBA website). This wetland is a Manitoba Heritage Marsh site and receives some protection under provincial regulations.
3.3.6 Reader and Saskeram Lakes (Basins Located West of the Pas)
Reader Lake is found north of Saskeram and about 20 km northwest of The Pas in a boreal landscape. The Saskatchewan River, which runs near the west boundary of Reader Lake, influences water levels during flood years. The lake is divided into two parts, North and South, separated by a weir and control structure that regulates the water level in the north basin with excess flow into the south basin. In 2007, the North Reader basin had central area consisting of mainly open water with a wide peripheral emergent zone, with two large shallow bays along the west portion of the basin (DUC Project Biological Inspection Report 2007). A peninsula of emergents (cattail and bulrush) in the southern portion of the basin is the focal nesting area for Franklin’s Gulls.
Saskeram Lake is located in a boreal landscape about 15 km west of The Pas in west central Manitoba within the Saskeram Wildlife Management Area, which includes the Reader lakes and was designated in 1963 (958 km²) (IBA website). The water level in this basin is regulated by channels, dikes and water control structures (bracken dam with stop logs) on several inflow and outflow creeks. In 2007, 35–40% of the basin was open water with the remainder covered by emergent vegetation. The basin, a wildlife management area, is on Crown land surrounded by Crown-leased land for pasture and hay lands. Water levels were high in 2005 because of a 1-in- 35-year flood event on the Saskatchewan River delta, and higher levels occurred in 2006 as a result of high snow pack and abundant precipitation in the region (DUC, Project Biological Inspection Report 2007).
The only BBS route near the Saskeram and Reader lakes colonies is The Pas. It has been run only four times between 1972 and 2007, and at least one Franklin’s Gull was seen each time (Fig. 30). There is no historic record that we could find of possible nesting by Franklin’s Gulls on the Reader wetland. D. Clayton (DUC The Pas) observed a small colony of nesting Franklin’s Gulls on the north basin during surveys of the area in 2006. During a visit in 2007, a colony of about 1,100 adults was nesting in the emergents similar in location to the previous year. During the survey in 2007, a large colony was observed on Saskeram in the cattail emergent vegetation that is thinning because of high water levels. D. Clayton (DUC The Pas) visited the area in 1990 and observed a large nesting colony that appeared to be larger that year, which would indicate he was aware there had been a colony present in the area prior to that year.
The one major threat to the wetland is flooding by the adjoining river such as the Saskatchewan River. The Saskeram wetland is a Manitoba Heritage Marsh site and receives some protection under provincial regulations. Conservation action is limited to the management activities of agencies such as Ducks Unlimited Canada at The Pas.
3.3.7 Whitewater Lake
Whitewater Lake is a catchment basin in the southwest corner of Manitoba just north of Turtle Mountain Provincial Park (IBA website). Whitewater is an alkaline lake that can be dry during severe drought periods but can range in size from 6,070 to 10,320 ha, depending on runoff and local precipitation. At the east end of the lake, Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) has constructed a series of dykes with water control structures to create basins with stabilized water levels for nesting birds.
The Croll BBS route begins 17 km northeast of the lake and continues mostly north. It has been run fairly regularly since 1967, but Franklin’s Gulls were not observed in great numbers until the late 1990s, and the highest numbers occurred in the 2007 survey (Fig. 31). The Lena route begins 26 km southeast of the lake and continues southeast. It has been surveyed 1989–2007. Franklin’s Gulls were not seen until 1993, with a peak in 1999. The Grand Clairi route is 21 km west of the lake, running north. It has been surveyed annually 1995–2007 with peaks in 1997 and 2004–2005 (Fig. 31).
The large size, limited access and remote nature of Whitewater Lake make it difficult to view all potential areas on the lake for nesting Franklin’s Gulls. In 1995, 3,000 pairs of Franklin’s Gulls were recorded in a nesting colony of the lake, and it is identified as an Important Bird Area (IBA website). R. Bazin visited the site in 2004 by airboat and located an extensive colony in the bulrush beds in the central portion of the basin. An estimated 207,000 adults were located within the confines of this colony (CWS, unpubl. data). High water levels in 2005 flooded out the bulrush vegetation in the central portion of the lake and destroyed the colony with the loss of young and eggs. Colonies were evident in 2006 around the perimeter of the lake, but no counts were conducted. In 2007, the colonies were again distributed around the perimeter of the lake with clusters in the northeast and southwest areas of the lake. The largest colony was located within the confines of the DUC cell on the east end of the lake.
The entire lake is designated a Wildlife Management Area under provincial regulations, so it is afforded some protection. It is also designated a Ramsar site or wetland of international importance and is currently a candidate Heritage Marsh. Viewing sites are established around the area to promote education and conservation of wildlife resources on the lake. Drought can affect the main lake basin, but the basin on the east end may offset some of the effects with regulation of water levels in a smaller area. The lake has a history of botulism, which can be highly detrimental to dense concentrations of nesting waterbirds.
Franklin’s Gulls appear to have a long history of nesting on many of the lakes found with active colonies during our study on the Canadian prairies. Relatively stable water and emergent vegetation conditions as well as minimal disturbance are likely the main reasons for the continued use of these lakes by nesting gulls. Water management on these lakes plays an important role in the stability of these colonies as is evident with the number of lakes managed by conservation agencies. The satellite lakes, primarily in Alberta, that are occasionally used for colonies (e.g. Jessie Lake, Forsyth Lake, Third Lake) may be important habitat for nesting Franklin’s Gulls when conditions at the main lake (e.g. Frank and Moose lakes) are not conducive to nesting or capacity of the lake has been reached. Lakes where Franklin’s Gulls no longer nest are those that are dry, flooded, have little emergent vegetation left, vegetation is too dense and/or there is too much disturbance for nesting gulls. Franklin’s Gulls may recolonize some of these lakes if water and emergent vegetation conditions again reach appropriate levels and no development occurs on the lake that could deter use by the nesting gulls.
Franklin’s Gull colonies face potential threats on all the lakes visited. Mortality due to power line collisions, changes in water quality (pollution from agricultural runoff; chemical pesticides) or depth, destruction of nests and nesting habitats due to shoreline development, recreation, and disturbance by humans were identified as potential threats during our surveys. Conservation steps need to be taken to ensure that the threats on the core Franklin’s Gull colonies identified in this report are minimized. The major portion of the Franklin’s Gull global population resides in Prairie Canada during the breeding season, and it is important for the conservation of this species that these colonies and wetlands be protected.
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