Revived lake makes Snow Goose Festival possible again

· The Pulse

Birders in the Edmonton area can watch the snow geese return to Beaverhill Lake instead of chasing around to catch a glimpse, now that the once-dry site of the Snow Goose Festival is wet again.

The festival took place for the first time in 21 years on April 22 and 23. Chris Chang-Yen Phillips of Let's Find Out was there to talk to some of the people who were excited to see the migratory birds return.

"In the early 2000s when the festival stopped, the lake was virtually dry. It was a giant grassland — great for Sprague's pipits and short-eared owls, but not so good for ducks and geese," said Snow Goose Festival chair Geoff Holroyd.

In the absence of a lake, the Edmonton Nature Club ran tours known as the Snow Goose Chase. That was the subject of the very first episode of Let's Find Out in 2016.

Holroyd, a retired wildlife biologist, has been involved since before the festival's inaugural edition in 1993. He explained how Beaverhill Lake, which is an attractive place for snow geese to gather, regained its previous form.

"There were two factors that dramatically affected Beaverhill Lake in the last almost 10 years. One was large summer rainfall events," he said. "The other factor that affects us is how wet or dry the autumn is."

Though it was "natural phenomena" that led to the refilling of Beaverhill Lake, Holroyd believes there's more to be done to protect natural areas like this one and the nearby recreation area.

"We definitely need to talk to our politicians more and have more protected spaces," he said. "One thing I've noticed over the last four or five years through the pandemic is the number of visitors we're getting at the Beaverhill natural area and the Blackfoot Recreation Area has increased dramatically … It's good news that people are coming out, (but) we don't want to suffocate our natural spaces by having too many people."

Many snow geese, who are nearly all-white aside from black wingtips, are seen in flight during the 2023 Snow Goose Festival

Birder Khoi Nguyen captured photos as tens of thousands of snow geese returned to Beaverhill Lake near Tofield during this year's Snow Goose Festival. (Khoi Nguyen/Let's Find Out)

Beaverhill Lake is a Ramsar site, which means it is designated as a "wetland of international importance" and recognized by the international Convention on Wetlands.

Vanita Eglauer, the recreation facilities coordinator for the town of Tofield and co-chair of the Snow Goose Festival committee, said festival attendance in years past reached 6,000 to 7,000 people. This year, she saw faces new and old.

"There are a lot of new birders now since the COVID pandemic," she said. "There's a lot of people who remember the original festival and really enjoyed it and have come back and are participating again."

This year's participants got to see tens of thousands of snow geese, even though Beaverhill Lake was frozen solid at the time. Next year's festival will be slightly later in the month, on April 27 and 28, to increase the chances that the lake will have thawed in time.

Let's Find Out is a monthly podcast that answers questions about Edmonton's history. The current season is on parks and natural areas. Learn much more about the Snow Goose Festival, birding in the Tofield area, and the damage wrought by neo-nicotinoid insecticides in the May 3 episode.