Waterfowl at sunset, Luck Lake, Saskatchewan

Welcome to Photo Journeys. Today, Lift-off refers both to the launch of our blog and the subject of our first posting.

We are fortunate to live near the Central North American Flyway, a migration route that birds follow between northern nesting grounds and southern wintering grounds. While a number of birds follow this highway in the sky, it’s the mind-boggling numbers of Snow Geese, White-fronted Geese, Canada Geese and Sandhill Cranes that use this route and stage here in the hundreds of thousands that is truly outstanding.

Numbers in central Saskatchewan usually peak around early October, although this varies somewhat from year to year with weather conditions. It’s fairly easy to find impressive numbers at key sites such as the Quill Lakes, Foam Lake, Last Mountain Lake, or vantage points along the South Saskatchewan River. Even large ponds can host thousands of birds.

sandhill cranes
Sandhill cranes.

Among our favourite spots is Luck Lake Heritage Marsh, less than a two-hour drive south of our home in Saskatoon. While some spots boast higher bird concentrations, Luck Lake makes up for it in its ease of access and vantage points for photography. The shallow, 20-square-kilometre lake is managed by Ducks Unlimited to conserve wildlife habitat, a key feature of which is a dyke road running right across the lake – ideal for getting close to the action.

If you come during the day, there will likely be some birds around, but the real show happens around sunset. Birds that have spent the day feeding in nearby grain fields return to roost on the shallow lake. Wave after wave of geese (mostly Snow Geese) and cranes pass overhead and touch down at points around the lake. If you’re fortunate, the birds will return while there is still enough light for photography, but they set the agenda.

Snow geese and waterfowl liftoff at Luck Lake, Saskatchewan

Activity around sunrise is even more impressive, and easier to photograph. We like to be out on the dyke well before dawn because many birds will leave right around sunrise or even earlier. Lift-off is an awesome sight. A few get the ball rolling by taking to the air, then the entire flock lifts off in unison, sometimes almost blackening the sky. The mix of their loud “whouck, whouck” calls and the rapids flapping of thousands of wings is almost deafening. It’s safest to photograph from inside your vehicle, especially if you’re close to the roosting flock. If you get out, you may spook them and they’ll take off before you’re ready. Setting up a tripod without spooking the birds is often okay if you’re farther away, but it’s best to stay close to your vehicle and not move around anymore than you need to.

Waterfowl liftoff at Luck Lake

Luck Lake and other key wildlife sites are among the places featured in our best-selling book, The Great Saskatchewan Bucket List – 50 unforgettable natural wonders to see before you kick the bucket.

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