Bigstick Lake Plain encompasses a large part of the southern slopes of the Great Sand Hills of southwestern Saskatchewan. The closest towns are Fox Valley to the northwest and Tompkins to the southeast. This semi-arid plain includes the large saline lakes, Bigstick (4,300 ha), Crane (2,500 ha) and Ingebright (390 ha), as well as extensive grasslands. Much of this grassland is native mixed-grass prairie. Mason Lake, a reservoir that forms the west section of Ingebrigt Lake, has more stable water levels and is less saline than the rest of the lake. Ducks Unlimited has two projects in the area; one lies just to the northwest of Ingebright Lake, and the other is on the west shore of Bigstick Lake. The latter project consists of a restriction dam that was built in 1974 and produces a 100-200 ha marsh.
This lake plain area is a significant site because several types of waterbirds congregate at the lakes in abundance. About 16,000 waterfowl have used Bigstick and Crane lakes during their fall migration. Also, over 7,000 Franklins Gull also stage here - this is over 1% of the global population.
Several other bird species make use of these lakes and grasslands during the breeding season. Of particular note are small numbers of: Ferruginous Hawks (Special Concern species), Piping Plovers and Burrowing Owls (both nationally endangered). The most recent Piping Plovers (two in 1991) were found at Ingebrigt Lake, but in the past this species was also found at the other two lakes. At Ingebrigt Lake, up to 1,717 staging Wilsons Phalarope have been seen. Also, Eared Grebe, Black-crowned Night-Heron (25-30 pairs, early 1980s), California Gull, Ring-billed Gull and Lark Bunting breed in the Bigstick Lake area. Crane Lake used to support colonies of American White Pelicans, Double-crested Cormorants, California Gulls and Common Terns.
Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
This area has been recognized before as being an area of importance to birds. Crane Lake was identified as a candidate wildlife area under the International Biological Programme, and both Bigstick Lake and Crane Lake were designated as bird sanctuaries in 1925 but were discontinued as such in 1948. The southern shoreline of Ingebrigt Lake is protected under the Wildlife Habitat Protection Act. Two small Prairie National Wildlife Areas, consisting of mostly mixed-grass prairie are considered important for grassland birds and Pronghorn Antelope fawning. Some sections of the land are cooperative pasture and others are PFRA (Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration); neither of these types of land are likely to be developed.
Botulism has been a problem at Bigstick Lake. Over a four day period in August of 1979, 2,071 dead birds were picked up (80.4 % were dabbling ducks). Drought is always a potential problem in this arid region, especially because of the associated increase in lake salinity. Gas and oil exploration have increased significantly in this region in recent years resulting in increased heavy equipment transportation and the construction of many new roads (which fragments the habitat).
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Bigstick Lake Plain. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 14/04/2021.