Okanagan Spring Birding Tour ~ March 29-31, 2015

March 29 – A rather small but eager group assembled at 8 AM this morning and we began with a bang as we watched a pair of Great Horned Owls at their nest in Lake Country. One of the adults sat tight on the nest high in the tree, while the other bird, which I took to be the male, sat next to the trunk in a huge Douglas Fir.  Also of interest here, a pair of Wood Ducks flew over as they called.

Great Horned Owl roosts in fir near its nest. Lake Country, BC. Chris Charlesworth.
Great Horned Owl roosts in fir near its nest. Lake Country, BC. Chris Charlesworth.

After the excitement of the Great Horned Owl, we began up Beaver Lake Road and in the grassland areas we had a nice assortment of spring birds. There were Mountain Bluebirds everywhere, with an estimated 100 seen! On the other hand, only about 4-5 Western Bluebirds were tallied, though we were seen nicely. Western Meadowlarks seemed to be everywhere, and we had a Say’s Phoebe as well. Tree Swallows were already poking their heads inside nest boxes to check them out. Dorothy Robertson spotted an adult Northern Shrike, our only one for the day.  In a copse of aspens we had brief but good views of a Red-naped Sapsucker, year bird for many.

Our next target bird was a little trickier, the Northern Pygmy-Owl. I had been keeping tabs on one along Beaver Lake Road right where the grasslands give way to the forest so I had my fingers crossed it would be there today. We stopped, got out and walked around for 20 minutes or so, only to add Golden-crowned Kinglet and Mountain Chickadee. I thought we should turn around and try one more place, and good thing we did since this is where the Northern Pygmy-Owl was hiding.

A Northern Pygmy-Owl along Beaver Lk Rd, Lake Country, BC. Chris Charlesworth.
A Northern Pygmy-Owl along Beaver Lk Rd, Lake Country, BC. Chris Charlesworth.

We enjoyed great views of the pygmy-owl and then carried on up the road, adding such beauties along the way as Varied Thrush, singing male Pine Grosbeak, Spotted Towhee and a pair of calling Pacific Wrens. Once up at Beaver Lk Lodge we took a short walk and got excellent views of Gray Jays, along with a few Steller’s Jays. A Brown Creeper called sang several times here, but remained mostly hidden. A few short stops along Dee Lake Road produced very little, other than our second Northern Pygmy-Owl of the day!  We had lunch here, while a cool breeze blew through the spruce trees. On our way back down to Lake Country, a Ruffed Grouse was sitting on the road right beside the vehicle. A few mammals tallied on Beaver Lake Road included White-tailed Deer, Mule Deer and Columbian Ground-Squirrel.

At Tutt’s Pond there was a nice selection of waterfowl including Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Duck, Bufflehead, Redhead, American Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, American Coot and  more. Overhead a couple of Red-tailed Hawks and an immature Bald Eagle sailed past.  A pair of Killdeer sat next to the pond and were our first for the trip. Over to Robert Lake we went, where we found several other birders staring at a lovely American Avocet feeding nice and close to shore.

First of the year! American Avocet at Robert Lake, Kelowna, BC. Chris Charlesworth.
First of the year! American Avocet at Robert Lake, Kelowna, BC. Chris Charlesworth.

A mixed flock of Herring and California gulls loafed out on the lake, prompting a discussion on how I could tell the two apart at distance. Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal and Common Goldeneye were added to our daily tally here as well.

To finish off the diurnal part of the days’ activities we headed for Mission Ck where after some good searching I finally located a Western Screech-Owl roosting in a cedar. The bird seemed didn’t seem bothered by our presence. Also on our walk we saw several Great Blue Herons at their nests high in the cottonwoods. It had been a good day so far, and we headed off for a little r & r before dinner and some evening owling, returning to Beaver Lake Road. Unfortunately tonight wasn’t our lucky night with owls. We tried several places for Northern Saw-whet Owl and Boreal Owl and had no luck, most likely because of the light rain falling which isn’t optimal for owling. We did hear a pack of Coyotes yipping in the distance however.

 

March 30 -We left Kelowna just before 9 AM and made our way south to Summerland where we stopped in to see a roosting Long-eared Owl that nicely obliged, although it was quite camouflaged in the thick vegetation.

Long-eared Owl roosting in Summerland, BC. March 2015.
Long-eared Owl roosting in Summerland, BC. March 2015.

From Summerland we headed into Penticton where we had a brief coffee stop before carrying on to OK Falls. As we drove along the hwy near Summerland we had at least one Mountain Goat high on the cliffs above. Weather was in our favor today with mostly sunny skies and warm temperatures creeping over the 20 degree Celsius mark. All of the Saskatoon bushes and various blossoms on fruit trees were out a good week or so early!

At Ok Falls we eventually spotted a single American Dipper sitting on a rock where it was also very hard to see. Common and Barrow’s goldeneyes bobbed up and down on the creek, while our first Steller’s Jay of the tour called from the dry hillside above. We watched a pair of Northern Flickers excavate their nest hole in a willow.

Next, we headed up Shuttleworth Ck Rd where a stop in the Ponderosa Pine forest produced Western Bluebird, Mountain Chickadee, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Pygmy Nuthatch, Spotted Towhee and a male Hairy Woodpecker. We had a good view of an adult Northern Shrike along the first kilometer of the road.

We took a little side road down into a wooded gully where I had seen a Barred Owl the previous week. We had lunch here, under gorgeous sunshine while several butterflies fluttered about, including Mourning Cloaks and Sarah Orangetips. Birds included several boisterous Pacific Wrens, one of which we saw, and several Golden-crowned Kinglets. Eventually we did find the Barred Owl sitting in a spruce tree where we had excellent views.

East of Okanagan Falls, BC. March 2015, a Barred Owl.
East of Okanagan Falls, BC. March 2015, a Barred Owl.

At the famous Venner Larches we tried for quite a while to locate Williamson’s Sapsucker, but by now the wind had picked up substantially. Brown Creepers were heard singing in the woods and a Pileated Woodpecker was watched as it sat atop a tall snag. Yet another Barred Owl was found here, a great treat, and after persistent searching I finally located a lovely male Williamson’s Sapsucker. The bird showed us all its angles and when it turned towards us and showed off its bright yellow bellow and red chin, the group let out a communal cheer.

Down the mountain we went, stopping in at the Vaseux Cliffs. Along the way Tom Kemp and I saw three Turkey Vultures coursing low over the fields north of Vaseux Lake. At the cliffs several Canyon Wrens were singing in the wind, but none would show themselves. A pair of Golden Eagles, one adult and one subadult flew just over our heads, again soliciting cheers from the group. A first of the year for all were several White-throated Swifts sailing very swiftly over the cliffs. Out on Vaseux Lake there were close to a thousand American Coots, but mixed in were some ducks including several Canvasback and Ring-necked Ducks. As we drove along Hwy 97 alongside the lake we saw a small herd of California Bighorn sheep,  our first and only for the trip. Once we arrived at our motel in Oliver, I was happy to see the adult Great Horned Owl atop its nest, where it swung wildly in the wind. We tried some evening owling at Road 22, but only found one Great Horned Owl. I speculate it was just too windy for saw-whets. Where we had dinner at the Gecko’s Grill in Oliver, we had another Great Horned Owl at dusk. It had been a very good day indeed.

March 31 – At Tucelnuit Lake this morning we had several Yellow-rumped Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets flitting about in the fresh leaves on the trees. Evening Grosbeak and Cedar Waxwing called but remained unseen. Out on the water we saw a Pied-billed Grebe, several Wood Ducks, Ring-necked Duck and American Wigeon.

Along Black Sage Road as we made our way to Road 22 we saw our first Osprey of the tour. Once at Road 22 we saw at least 3 more Ospreys. The sky was full of Tree and Violet-green swallows. On its large stick nest we saw the head of the adult Bald Eagle keeping watch as it sat tight. Again the wind blew quite viciously today. We walked along the south-east dyke finding such goodies as three Bewick’s Wrens, a Marsh Wren, a pair of Northern Harriers, Downy Woodpeckers, White-crowned Sparrows, and a pair of Hooded Mergansers. A male Ring-necked Pheasant jumped out of the bush in front of us with a whir of wings.

We turned north, stopping in for a quick coffee as we past through Oliver. At the Vaseux Cliffs the wind howled and we didn’t get anything interesting so we carried on up Green Lake Road to Mahoney Lake where we had lunch. The highlight here was a nice male Eurasian Wigeon.  Another stop near Park Rill on White Lk Rd produced another pair of Golden Eagles, an adult and an immature again, soaring above a towering cliff. What a sight! The sage flats of White Lake were fairly quiet, because of the howling wind most likely, though there were plenty of Western Meadowlarks, Western and Mountain bluebirds and American Kestrel about. We finished off the day, and the tour at the Red Roost Gift Shop in Kaleden , where in with the House Finches we had at least 4 Cassin’s Finches. Downy and Hairy woodpecker, Steller’s Jay, Spotted Towhee and Pine Siskin were also present. Our final species total was 93!

Chris Charlesworth

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