Spring 2015 Migration Update


"One swallow does not make a summer, but one skein of geese cleaving the murk of March thaw, is the Spring." -- Aldo Leopold


The recent precipitation in the area has raised the water levels in Mud Lake and Sand Lake considerably in the past couple weeks. Therefore, the populations of shorebirds using the refuge have dwindled. However, the rise in water has brought larger numbers of waterbirds like pelicans, grebes, and waterfowl onto the refuge. This is an excellent time of year to look for songbirds, such as warblers, as they have also made their way back into the area. 


The spring waterfowl migration is about complete with only a couple hundred snow geese remaining on the refuge.  There are still some diver ducks on the Refuge working their way north with quite a few scattered puddle ducks.  The Refuge is drawing down Sand Lake this summer and as a result there is and will be a lot of exposed mud flats.  With the exposed mud flats and shallow water have come exceptional shorebird habitat.  Recent reports have shore bird numbers on the Refuge in the thousands.  Most of these birds can be viewed from HWY 10 and 117th Street, but the Refuge Tour Route also offers some excellent viewing opportunities.


There is still a small group of approximately 2500 snow geese remaining in the Sand Lake area. Most of the waterfowl migration has already occurred, and current waterfowl use on the refuge is low. The majority of waterfowl are mostly using small wetlands throughout northeast South Dakota. We are also seeing more songbirds returning to the refuge and the Sand Lake district.


The refuge pools are now ice free. We feel we are at the tail end of the snow goose migration as there are only several hundred snow geese remaining on the refuge. Other waterfowl numbers (ducks) continue to increase with the current onset of warm weather. 


Large numbers of ducks and geese were observed within the Sand Lake Wetland Management District area this week, with the majority of the birds located in counties to the east and west of the refuge. Small numbers of waterfowl are currently using the refuge, as it is still mostly ice-covered.  There are a few thousand snow geese remaining on the Refuge, north of HWY 10, but with warmer weather expected this weekend, those numbers will most likely be rapidly changing.  The largest snow goose concentrations have been spotted in Day, Edmunds and Spink Counties 


Yesterday (3-18-2015) approximately 100,000 snow geese were observed on Sand Lake NWR. Both refuge pools remain 80% ice covered and these birds were roosting on the ice. Many flocks of geese were also observed within the area of Brown County. Duck numbers are slowly increasing as well. The migration is unusual this year with geese currently present from Arkansas to Canada. What this means is peak build-ups will not likely occur as they do in “normal” migration years.


Snow goose numbers have decreased dramatically since the last update. Due to the nice weather over the weekend and Sand Lake remaining ice-covered, the geese kept moving north. There are still approximately 5000 snow geese on the south portion of the refuge. 


Snow geese numbers using the refuge doubled from Monday's estimate.  Approximately 60,000 birds are now on the refuge.  Refuge pools remain ice covered.  Many thousands of geese were observed in Spink County yesterday with an estimate of 100,000+ birds within the Highway 37 corridor from Doland to Groton, South Dakota.


Large flocks of snow geese arrived at Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge on Monday March 9th.  Approximately 30,000 were observed on the refuge.  In addition, small flocks of mallards and northern pintail were seen in shallow wetlands that are ice free.   Warm temperatures and a lack of snow cover with allow migrating waterfowl to make fast work of their migration north.  The refuge remains ice covered.  


The first snow geese of the 2015 spring migration were seen in Brown County, SD on March 8th.  The birds seen were very small flocks which is typical of the start of the migration.  Currently there is no snow in the area and shallow wetlands may become ice free by mid to late week with predicted daytime temperatures reaching the mid 50 degree range.  Overnight lows are predicted to be around 30 degrees.  With these conditions, we expect a good surge of migrating snow geese into the Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge area.  Expect updates to change daily once the birds reach our area.


SD Game, Fish & Parks Waterfowl Population Index