Episode 64 – Return of the Snow Goose Festival

a flock of black and white birds flying against a clear sky
A flock of snow geese fly over the Tofield area. [Photo: Khoi Nguyen]

Back in 2016, the very first episode of Let’s Find Out was about a festival in Tofield, a town about 45 minutes southeast of Edmonton: The Snow Goose Festival. In that episode, we set out to find out how this big festival that started in the 90’s with thousands of bird watchers coming to Tofield to admire the geese migrating through in the spring became a convoy of school bus tours run by the Edmonton Nature Club. In that episode what we found out was that the festival was centred on Beaverhill Lake, which mostly dried up a decade later, leading the organizers wind down the festival. A die-hard group of goose admirers planned those bus tours – the Snow Goose Chase – to catch them in wet farm fields instead.

The first story was interesting to us because it demonstrated how quickly we can get used to big changes, and accept new normals – something called shifting baselines. Imagine our surprise and delight when we found out the festival was coming back for 2023.

How is that possible? What does it mean? Is Beaverhill Lake back?

In this episode, Chris took a field trip out to Tofield, because he sensed this would be kind of a good news story, of people who remembered the lake, remembered this celebration of birds, and wanted to breathe new life into it. The actual story was more complicated than we imagined.


spoilers below

University of Alberta masters student Khoi Nguyen was one of many bird enthusiasts out at the Tofield Arena decompressing after a bus tour.

A man sits on a bench in the bleachers of an arena. To the right, a vendor is visible in the rink area.
Khoi Nguyen reviews photos on his laptop

A half dozen snow geese fly in the foreground, with dozens in the deep background, in a clear sky.

Another shot of snow geese migrating [Photo: Khoi Nguyen]

Vanita Eglauer, recreation coordinator for the town of Tofield, gave us the basics on the return of the festival. In short, Beaverhill Lake has indeed returned to about 3/4 of its surface area from the early 2000’s, making the area an even more attractive spot for migratory birds again. It remains a Ramsar site – internationally recognized for its value as wetland habitat.

With the Edmonton Nature Club no longer running the Snow Goose Chase tours, organizers started trying to reboot the festival in 2019. The Covid-19 pandemic put the brakes on organizing for a few years, but this year the capacity and public enthusiasm were there to make it happen.

Vanita stands to the left of frame in front of a large sign with the Tofield logo: three birds flying past three cattails.
 Vanita Eglauer at the arena
A map of water features near Edmonton.
Map of the Beaver Hills Sub-Watershed (outlined in blue), overlapping with the Beaver Hills Biosphere (outlined in light green) and Beaverhill Lake (with an orange map pin). Tofield is directly west of the lake. [Credit: Beaver Hills Biosphere]

Geoff Holroyd gave context to the large weather events that have contributed to the lake’s re-emergence. Like many prairie lakes, it goes through long cycles of growth and decline.

Geoff smiles inside the food court at the arena with a windbreaker on and a sweater that reads "Canada"
Geoff Holroyd at the Tofield Arena

Our host Chris took one of the Snow Goose Festival bus tours out to the Beaverhill Bird Observatory, where biologists demonstrated how to band a small downy woodpecker.

Beaverhill Bird Observatory head biologist Jana Teefy holds a downy woodpecker
Beaverhill Bird Observatory head biologist Jana Teefy holds a downy woodpecker

They also walked to the edge of the forest at the bird observatory, where far in the distance the lakeshore is visible again.

Looking north towards the shore of Beaverhill Lake. It is a line far on the horizon.
Looking north towards the shore of Beaverhill Lake. It is a line far on the horizon.

Further Reading:

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