The Manitou Lake Area contains several lakes and sand hills situated mostly in west-central Saskatchewan, but also in adjacent Alberta. This hilly area includes the large, 8000 hectare Manitou Lake as well as several smaller lakes including Freshwater, Wells, Reflex, Cipher and Colette (the last two being entirely within Alberta). The terrain between the lakes is characterized by sand hills that are covered by stunted aspen growth and native grassland. Nearly all of this land is under the auspices of thirteen grazing co-operatives. A significant portion of the woody cover has been cleared to increase grazing capacity, and only a small amount of cropland is present. Small wetlands can be found throughout the region.
During the spring migration, these lakes support some of the largest shorebird concentrations in western Saskatchewan. During surveys completed in the spring of 1995 (and 1996), maximum numbers of shorebirds at Manitou / Wells Lake reached 71,000 (55,000), of which 70,000 (47,000) were Red-necked Phalaropes - this would likely represent about 3.5% of the estimated North American population for this species. During the 1980s as many as 35,590 shorebirds (including 20,000 Sanderlings) were recorded on the Reflex Lakes, but more recently numbers have been lower, at this lake. In 1995, 6,000 Sanderlings (about 3% of the estimated North American population) were recorded, and in 1996 5,100 Sanderlings were counted. Up to 3000 Stilt Sandpipers (3% of the worlds population) have been seen during spring migration. In total, the number of shorebirds migrating through the Manitou / Wells and Reflex Lake area during the springs of 1995 and 1996 was 81,000 and 58,000 respectively. Other shorebirds species considered uncommon in Alberta, such as Ruddy Turnstone, Red Knot and Dunlin, also occur regularly at these lakes.
The Manitou Lakes Area is also important for breeding Piping Plovers, a nationally endangered and globally vulnerable species. Manitou and Reflex Lake support the majority of the nesting Piping Plovers, with respective averages (1993-96) being 67 and 26 adults. Freshwater, Wells and Cipher Lakes also support nesting Piping Plovers. In years when all of the lakes have been surveyed, the number of nesting Piping Plovers in the Manitou Lake Area has been as high as 185 birds (1995). This site consistently supports almost 6% of the Canadian Great Plains population, and almost 2% of the worlds estimated Piping Plover population.
In addition to shorebirds, thousands of waterfowl make use of these lakes for moulting or staging during migration. Some of the more common species include Lesser Scaup and Redhead. In the terrestrial areas surrounding the lakes, the aspen groves and native grasslands support large populations of typical parkland bird species, such as the Red-tailed Hawk, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Least Flycatcher, House Wren, Mountain Bluebird, Gray Catbird, Warbling Vireo, Spotted Towhee and Baltimore Oriole.
Disturbance, as a result of cattle access to the Piping Plover nesting beaches, and increased recreational vehicle usage is the greatest threat to the nesting Piping Plovers. Six specific areas have been designated as critical Piping Plover habitat at Manitou Lake. This designation protects the shoreline to the high water mark from development under the provincial Wildlife Habitat Protection Act. Over half the shoreline of Manitou Lake is protected in this manner. The Artland Sandhills (7252 ha), just west of Manitou Lake, were identified as a candidate wildlife area under International Biological Programme. Manitou Lake Bird Sanctuary was established in 1925 but was discontinued in 1953.IBA Criteria Habitats Land Uses Potential or Ongoing Threats Conservation Status
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