A dramatic rise in river levels is threatening an endangered species of bird that nests on the shores of Lake Diefenbaker in Saskatchewan. There are an estimated 115 piping plover nests buried in the sand at the Saskatoon-area lake, but more than half of them could be wiped out by rising water levels in the days ahead, said Glen McMaster of the Saskatchewan Watershed Authority. 'This water is going to be rising so quickly that many of these nests will be flooded,' said McMaster, an ecologist with the watershed authority's habitat protection branch.
The problem stems from the recent torrential rainfalls in Alberta, which are pushing water along the South Saskatchewan River into the lake. Earlier this week, forecasters predicted that lake levels could rise as much as three metres by the end of June. Eight to 10 people are racing against time trying to move as many of the nests as they can, but it's delicate work, McMaster said. The nests, shallow bowls a centimetre or two deep, must be carefully transferred to dishes and then moved away from the shore a few metres at a time, he said. If they're moved too far, too quickly, the mothers won't be able to find them.
Piping plovers were nearly hunted to extinction at the end of the 19th century and have been on endangered species lists worldwide for many years. Saskatchewan is home to about six per cent of the global population.
The sad part, McMaster said, is that it had looked earlier like it was going to be a record year for nests and adults on the lake. The people at work now hope to save about 50 nests – each typically with four eggs – but the rest could be lost. "It's frustrating," he said. "We're trying to minimize the damage at this point."
And in case you're wondering about Lake Diefenbaker, it's named after Canada's 13th Prime Minister, the charismatic John Diefenbaker. Here's a nifty and thoroughly unofficial website all about this great Canadian.