IBA Handhills Lake
Hanna, Alberta
Site Summary
AB024 Latitude
51.490° N
112.127° W
914 - 922 m
13.48 km²
native grassland, inland saline lake, arable & cultivated lands, improved pastureland
Land Use:
Agriculture, Rangeland/pastureland
Potential or ongoing Threats:
Arable farming, Dredging/canalization, Dykes/dam/barrages, Drought, Grazing, Ground water extraction, Intensified management, Other decline in habitat quality, Recreation/tourism
IBA Criteria: Continentally Significant: Congregatory Species, Nationally Significant: Threatened Species
Conservation status: Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (potential)
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Site Description
Handhills Lake is located 20 km southwest of Hanna, Alberta. The lake has a surface area of 8 km² and features almost 18 km of shoreline with large, extensive mudflats, alkali flats, sand beaches, and pebble shorelines that provide important Piping Plover breeding habitat and staging grounds for other shorebirds. The lake is fed by alkali springs and a number of small, intermittent channels, but there is no drainage out of the lake.
This site is important for the nationally endangered (and globally vulnerable) Piping Plover. This species nests most frequently along the eastern shore and forages at the various seepage areas or at specific springs. On average, 33 Piping Plovers have been recorded at this site during the breeding season (nine surveys during the last ten years). Probably even more birds are actually present, since this average uses only the minimum estimate for each year. Since surveys began in the early 1980s, estimated numbers of breeding Piping Plovers have ranged from 2 to 82, but have been consistently greater than 20 in recent years. The 31 to 44 birds recorded in 1998 represent over 1% of the Northern Great Plains population, and as much as 2.5% of the Canadian Great Plains population. Prior to the 1980s there were probably smaller numbers of breeding plovers as the habitat was less suitable due to higher water levels.

This site is also significant for concentrations of staging geese (5,000 15,000) and other waterfowl, especially when water levels are high.

IBA Criteria
SpeciesT | A | I Links Date Season Number G C N
Piping Plover 1990 - 2006 SU 17 - 77
Note: species shown in bold indicate that the maximum number exceeds at least one of the IBA thresholds (sub-regional, regional or global). The site may still not qualify for that level of IBA if the maximum number reflects an exceptional or historical occurrence.
Conservation Issues
Shallow lakes such as Handhills Lake are susceptible to drought when there is little winter snow pack and minimal spring rains. This leads to naturally fluctuating plover populations. Other concerns at this site include the deterioration of shoreline habitat caused by the trampling of cattle and by the use of off-road vehicles. Recently, the cattle trampling issue has been addressed through the placement of fencing near the "key" nesting areas.

Handhills Lake has been identified as a potential Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) site under the endangered species category.

The IBA Program is an international conservation initiative coordinated by BirdLife International. The Canadian co-partners for the IBA Program are Birds Canada and Nature Canada.
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