Avocet Tours ‘Okanagan Spring Birding’ April 4-6, 2014

At 8 AM on Friday, April 4, I met 11 birders at the Parkinson’s Rec Center in Kelowna and we were all ready for 3 days of birding in the South Okanagan.  The weather was lovely this morning with mixed sun and cloud and fairly warm temperatures. Our first stop was at Hardy Falls near Peachland, where we met up with Patricia and Jean from Calgary who also joined our group. Birding along the trail at Hardy Falls was very pleasant and as we made our way up towards the waterfall we were rewarded with lovely views of a Pacific Wren. Once at the waterfall it didn’t take us long to find the American Dipper, our target bird for this location. The dipper was fixing up its nest, adding bits and pieces of grass and moss to the structure that was merely 2 feet away from the raging waters of the waterfall.

American Dipper
American Dipper gathering nesting material. Hardy Falls, Peachland, BC. April 2014, Photo Clive Keen.

Tour participant Clive Keen, from Prince George, took this lovely picture of the dipper as it gathered nesting material. Our next stop, after a quick stop at Tim Horton’s, was the Penticton waterfront along Okanagan Lake. Near the ‘Big Peach’ we scanned through about 50 gulls. Included were three common species; Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull and California Gull. Also included was an immature Thayer’s Gull, as well as an adult Mew Gull and an immature Glaucous Gull! What an excellent haul, we thought as we made off like bandits with a few good birds in hand.

Glaucous Gull
Immature Glaucous Gull stretching wings at the beach on Okanagan Lake in Penticton, BC. Apr 2014. Photo Clive Keen.

Another of Clive Keen’s fantastic photos from the tour shows the immature Glaucous Gull, actually a lifer for Clive, stretching its wings in the morning sunlight along the Penticton waterfront.

We then gathered at the Holiday Beach Resort in OK Falls where we checked in to our accommodations and also had a scan of Skaha Lake where both Horned and Red-necked grebes were seen.  At the OK Falls Campground we had lunch and went for a short walk around the property. Overhead a pair of Merlins courted and called rather incessantly. Our first Ruby-crowned Kinglet of the trip flitted about in the trees in the park alongside Pygmy Nuthatches and Black-capped Chickadees.

We wound our way up the Green Lake Road from OK Falls, pausing briefly at Green Lake itself to view the waterfowl. There were plenty of Lesser Scaup, along with a few Ring-necked Ducks, Bufflehead and Common Goldeneye.  The Ponderosa Pine forest near Mahoney Lake produced White-breasted, Pygmy and Red-breasted nuthatches together in one tree, as well as Cassin’s Finch, Mountain Chickadee and Mountain Bluebird. Driving towards White Lake we saw stunning Western Bluebirds and the subtly beautiful Say’s Phoebe.

Mountain Bluebirds
Male and female Mountain Bluebirds. White Lake, BC. Mar 2014. Photo Chris Charlesworth

I took this ‘action shot’ of a pair of Mountain Bluebirds along White Lake Road on a scouting trip just prior to the actual tour. The female appears to be telling the male to get off her favorite perch. The lovely White Lake basin itself dotted with sagebrush and rolling hills, was alive with the songs of Western Meadowlarks. Raptors were on the move today and we saw Rough-legged and Red-tailed hawks, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier and American Kestrel here.

After a scrumptious dinner we headed out for a little nocturnal outing, starting off at Road 22 with a calling Northern Saw-whet Owl. Despite the fact the bird was calling right in front of us, we never could spot him.  A Muskrat paddled across an oxbow while a pack of Coyotes let out a haunting chorus of howls into the darkness. We made our way north via Black Sage Road and the Fairview-White Lk Rd. Along Black Sage Road a Great Horned Owl was seen by some as it sat on a telephone wire. Along White Lk Rd we tried for Western Screech-Owl near Park Rill. Though we did hear one in the distance, we never caught a glimpse of this elusive forest denizen. A Great Horned Owl was hooting away at Three Gates Farm on White Lk Rd. so we didn’t even try to find a screech-owl there. The showing of stars was rather spectacular tonight. We made our way back to the motel for some much needed rest!

Common in towns and cities of Okanagan. Photo Clive Keen.
Common in towns and cities of Okanagan. Photo Clive Keen.

Saturday, April 5 turned out to be a thrilling day of birding in the South Okanagan. We began at the cliffs at Vaseux Lake where a male Canyon Wren sang his little heart out and let us view him through the scope. We then ventured up into the higher elevations along Shuttleworth Road to search for woodland species. At the usual spots amongst the giant Western Larches along Venner Meadows Road we encountered up to 5 Williamson’s Sapsuckers this morning. Several of these were heard drumming and calling only, but a male and female put on a lovely show for us, even displaying as Lesley Robertson watched through the scope. Other goodies here included an obliging Northern Pygmy-Owl that sat atop a pine and allowed us to watch for a lengthy time through the scope. High-fives to Lou and Edith Davidson, as it was a lifer for them! Though we tried the high elevation forest near Rabbit Lk for birds like Boreal Chickadee, Pine Grosbeak and White-winged Crossbill, none of the aformentioned birds would appear. There was a brisk breeze here, which may have been keeping the birds in hiding. Clive Keen pointed out another calling Northern Pygmy-Owl and Jane and Dawn from Alberta saw a Gray Jay, so at least we weren’t skunked. On the way back down to OK Falls, a Moose was a pleasant surprise in an old clearcut.

OK Falls, BC. April 2014. Photo Pam Laing.
Moose, OK Falls, BC. April 2014. Photo Pam Laing.

We had lunch at Christie Memorial Park in OK Falls. The appearance of two Golden Eagles high overhead, and a pair of Yellow-rumped Warblers flitting through the trees, interrupted our meal, but we weren’t too worried.

For the rest of the afternoon we visited Road 22 north of Osoyoos where we saw quite a number of new birds such as Long-billed Curlew, Osprey and thanks to Pam Laing, a Northern Rough-winged Swallow. Along the S.E. dyke we were treated to excellent views of a pair of Bewick’s Wrens, while along the S.W. dyke we saw a Marsh Wren as it sang from the reeds. Out in a flooded field at Road 22, with several American Wigeon, were two male Eurasian Wigeon, their red-heads glowing in the afternoon light.

Road 22, Osoyoos, BC. April 2014. Photo Pam Laing.
Bewick’s Wren. Road 22, Osoyoos, BC. April 2014. Photo Pam Laing.

After dinner we headed out for some more ‘owling’, driving back up to Rabbit lake in hopes of finding a Boreal Owl. Unfortunately as we ascended the road, snow began to fall and it was quite heavy by the time we reached Rabbit Lake. On our way back down to OK Falls, we tried unsuccessfully for Barred Owl.

Avocet Tours group birding in south Okanagan. April 2014. Photo Pam Laing.
Avocet Tours group birding in south Okanagan. April 2014. Photo Pam Laing.

Sunday, April 6 was the final day of this Spring birding blitz of the valley and we began at River Road and Hack’s Pond. On the pond were American Coot, Mallard, Green-winged Teal and a somewhat elusive Pied-billed Grebe, while in the bushes around the pond were Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Song Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos. A flooded field near the south end of River Road yielded another male Eurasian Wigeon as well as a snoozing Wilson’s Snipe.

Deadman Lake, at Road 21, had plenty of waterfowl on it, though nothing new. Over the ridge to the N.W. of the lake we watched an immature Golden Eagle soaring. In a grassy field south of the lake we saw our one and only Savannah Sparrow of the tour.

After a short break at the Osoyoos Visitors Center we headed up Hwy 3 to the Richter Pass. Our first stop was at Spotted Lake, just so those who were visiting the area for the first time could see the unique pattern of rings. At the Elkink Ranch I eventually spotted a pair of Chukar on the sage covered hillside above the hwy and we got great scope views.

Richter Pass, Osoyoos, BC. April 2014. Photo Pam Laing.
Richter Pass, Osoyoos, BC. April 2014. Photo Pam Laing.

On Richter Lk were Ruddy Ducks, new for our list, and a Greater Yellowlegs. At Nighthawk Rd we had our lunch amongst the sweet-smelling sage. Not too many birds were seen here, other than Western Meadowlarks. Our final stop of the tour was at the Red Roost Gift Shop near Kaleden. The feeding station was a bit quiet here, perhaps due to the presence of an adult Sharp-shinned Hawk. We did see Cassin’s Finch, Spotted Towhee, Steller’s Jay and several other species here. Our trip list total was 104 species!

Chris Charlesworth

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