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A Birding Trip To The Quill Lakes In Saskatchewan

A Birding Trip to the Quill Lakes in Saskatchewan

Ask just about anyone in Saskatchewan where the Quill Lakes are and chances are you’ll be met with blank stares. That was certainly our experience. Yet the Quill Lakes, located a few hours’ drive east of Saskatoon, are an International Bird Area – with over 300 species and 1,000,000 birds going through the area every year.

Three large lakes make up the area – Big Quill Lake, Little Quill Lake and Mud Lake. The lakes are actually the largest salt water lakes in Canada.

Quill Lakes birding

In 1971, the wetlands were recognized as being globally important. Over the years its has received the following designations:

  • Saskatchewan Heritage Marsh in 1985
  • Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve in 1994
  • Accredited watchable wildlife viewing area in 1995
  • Saskatchewan’s first Important Birding Area in 1998

The Quill Lakes area is considered to be one of the top two bird watching destinations in Saskatchewan. During the spring and fall migration 200,000 shorebirds, 400,000 ducks, 130,000 snow geese, 80,000 Canada geese and 40,000 sandhill cranes reportedly stop here.

Map of Saskatchewan's Quill Lake area

Map of Saskatchewan’s Quill Lake area

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Quill Lakes Visitor Centre in Wynard

It feels like a lot of energy was put into the area back in the 1990’s and then over the years, either funding has been cut or interest has waned. That at least was our impression.

We stopped at the Visitor’s Centre in Foam Lake – a tired place that didn’t even have recent bird sightings recorded and then continued on to the larger Visitor Centre in Wynard. The woman there said we were the first serious birders that she’d come across though the centre is devoted to birds. And it too had no notes of recent sightings. There is also a Visitor Centre in Wadena but it was closed.

The bad news continues. Next we found out that the main access road was partially underwater and any of the viewing platforms were inaccessible. So although the website looks great, the reality is a little different.

Exploring the backroads around the lakes

We didn’t drive eight hours for nothing so we decided we’d explore the backroads to the best of our ability and see what we’d find. The best road we discovered was the dirt road between Wynard and Quill Lake.

We drove about 14 kilometres north of Wynard, parked the car and then walked a few kilometres to the road block. The birding along this section of road was superb – and in a couple of hours we saw only a few trucks. John is more of a birder than I and over the course of the few hours we saw about six birds we’d never seen before. Not quite like the BIG YEAR but still very exciting.

Bird books that might be of interest

If you’re planning a trip to Saskatchewan to go birding you might enjoy one of these books.

Keep expectations in check

By no means was our trip a write-off. It just would have been that much better if the road wasn’t closed and more up to date information was available at the visitor’s centre. The area is certainly photogenic and any photographer will enjoy capturing the abundance of deserted buildings and farms – to say nothing of the birds and wildlife.

Abandoned home in the Quill Lakes area

Abandoned home in the Quill Lakes area

Yellow headed blackbird

Yellow headed blackbird

Deserted roads surrounded by water are great places for birding in the Quill Lake area

Deserted roads surrounded by water are great places for birding

This is white pelican country - Quill Lakes

This is white pelican country

Ruddy duck, Quill Lakes

Ruddy duck

Savannah sparrow, Quill Lakes

Savannah sparrow

Bonaparte gulls, Quill Lakes

Bonaparte gulls

Mayflies galore

Mayflies galore

Muskrat unconcerned by our presence, Saskatchewan

Muskrat unconcerned by our presence

Ferruginous hawk seen on the way to the Quill Lakes

Ferruginous hawk seen on the way to the Quill Lakes

Avocet and Hudsonian Godwit

Avocet and Hudsonian Godwit

The road to Quill Lake is partially under water

The road to Quill Lake is partially under water

Stormy skies over Big Quill Lake

Stormy skies

Where do you stay near the Quill Lakes?

There isn’t a lot of choice and restaurants are few and far between. We did spend one night in Yorkton, an hour’s drive east of Foam Lake at Patrick Place. Another night was spent near Fish Lake at Teetime Guest House – (Ph: 306-272-4502) and it offered a self-contained unit where we could also cook. There is a decent sized grocery store in Wynard so we stocked up with food there.

Despite the high water and quite a bit of driving on dirt-gravel roads, the Quill Lakes are a must-do destination if you’re into birding.

Further reading on Saskatchewan

Thank you to Tourism Saskatchewan for helping make this trip possible

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 7 Comments
  1. wow. how sad that such an important and interesting place seems so abandoned. it sounds like there aren’t even any folks in the area interested in birds, or they’d at least have sighting lists. great pictures.

  2. That’s an impressive number of beautiful birds – definitely a bird lover’s paradise. Too bad it doesn’t seem to be adequately maintained.

  3. You can’t beat 6 new species in one day. The last time that happened to me, I was in Guyana, or perhaps Big Bend. It can be difficult to time trips like this when the birding is optimal. Sometimes you just have to make the best of it when you get there.

  4. I am pleased you had reasonable birding in the Quill Lakes. Sad you found services lacking. My wife and I opers ated Quill Lakes Nature Tours and Penny’s Nature Lodge throughout the nineties. We hosted hundreds of people from across the continent and around the world. The lakes are experiencing a one in 2000 year event (possibly) with a vertical rise in flood water of 6.5 m in 11 yrs. It is about to experience a natural spill in less than one meter. The government has proposed a dam to prevent this rare opportunity. It will forever change the integrity of this important ecosystem. Anyone with any ability to help block this is encouraged to help us if possible.

  5. Quill Lakes is an amazing place for birding. Just a quick note to tell you that I have a passion for the topic “Quill Lakes for birding” at hand. Thanks and hope will talk soon with working details.

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