Okanagan Spring Birding Tour ~ April 1-3. 2015

April 1 – Our group gathered in Kelowna just after 8 AM and we made our way north to Lake Country where, along Vernon Ck, we watched both adult Great Horned Owls near their nest. One bird, most likely the female, was atop the nest, while the male roosted in a large Douglas Fir nearby. Also noteworthy were several Red Crossbills that called as they flew overhead. Logan Lalonde, my co-leader on this trip, was quick to identify their distinct call notes as they flew over.

Great Horned Owl, Lake Country, BC. Logan Lalonde.
Great Horned Owl, Lake Country, BC. Logan Lalonde.

Along the lower reaches of Beaver Lake Road we saw the usual grassland species including Western Meadowlarks, Western Bluebirds and a good sized migrant flock of Mountain Bluebirds. A Rough-legged Hawk perched on a distant hillside. In an aspen copse we all had excellent views of three Red-naped Sapsuckers as they chased each other through the trees. We reached the forested section of Beaver Lake Rd and had lunch at a spot where I had seen Northern Pygmy-Owl several times on recent visits. We ate our lunches while a few Red-breasted Nuthatches, Mountain Chickadees and Golden-crowned Kinglets kept us entertained. I had finally given up on the pygmy-owl and started to lead the serpentine string of cars in our group down the hill when a voice on the radio said, ‘We have the pygmy-owl’. Either this was a sick April fools joke or they had saved the day. Indeed, Nigel, Richard and Lou had heard the pygmy-owl and within a few minutes I had located it high atop a tree.

Northern Pygmy-Owl. Lake Country, BC. Photo Nigel Eggers.
Northern Pygmy-Owl. Lake Country, BC. Photo Nigel Eggers.

Farther up Beaver Lake Road we traveled and found ourselves amidst a snow storm. It really was coming down, but that didn’t discourage us too much.

Welcome to the Spring Bird Tour! April 1, 2015. Chris Charlesworth.
Welcome to the Spring Bird Tour! April 1, 2015. Photo Richard Kobayashi

We explored the high elevation forests of Dee Lake Rd while the snow kept coming down. Gray Jays were a nice treat to see, though we didn’t get many other species here.  Perhaps the best sighting was very cute and obliging Pacific Wren that sat in the open and serenaded us.

After a quick ‘pit stop’ we headed down to Robert Lake in Kelowna where our day list grew by leaps and bounds. Waterfowl were in abundance with Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Duck, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, American Wigeon, Redhead and more seen. On the far shore were several American Avocets, unfortunately too far for the photographers. Don Wilson exclaimed, ‘Here come the avocets’, as the birds flew across the lake and landed in the water in front of us.

American Avocets. Robert Lake, Kelowna, BC. Photo Logan Lalonde.
American Avocets. Robert Lake, Kelowna, BC. Photo Logan Lalonde.

We then searched, unsuccessfully for Western Screech-Owls at a few of my best locations along Mission Ck. The guano evidence of the birds was there, but the birds themselves had chosen a different roost today.

After dinner we headed back up to Dee Lake Road where under a starry sky and with bright moon, the magic happened. We had exceptional looks at a Boreal Owl, one of the most sought-after owls in North America, as it peered at us in the beam of my spotlight. High fives and congratulations all around and we didn’t stop smiling until we fell asleep that night.

Magical moment as Boreal Owl appears. Lake Country, BC. April 1, 2015. Logan Lalonde.
Magical moment as Boreal Owl appears. Lake Country, BC. April 1, 2015. Logan Lalonde.

April 2 – Still Beaming from seeing the Boreal Owl the night before, we departed the Kelowna area and made our way across Okanagan Lake and down to Summerland where we had a look for the Long-eared Owl seen on the previous trip, but the bird was not there. As we passed through Penticton we had a quick stop at a coffee shop and then carried on south to Okanagan Falls. Despite a really good look, we couldn’t find the American Dipper seen on the previous trip. There were both Barrow’s and Common Goldeneye here and we all had the usual arguments about the identity of these female type birds. Over the ridge to the west, Logan pointed out about 20 White-throated Swifts up in the sky.

We bumped our way up the Shuttleworth Rd to a lovely little wooded gully along Dutton Ck where we had a great experience with a Barred Owl. The bird sat in plain view and hooted repeatedly as our group watched in awe.

Barred Owl. OK Falls, BC. Photo Chris Charlesworth.
Barred Owl. OK Falls, BC. Photo Chris Charlesworth.

Just then, a female Williamson’s Sapsucker came flying in, chased by a Red-naped Sapsucker. At the usual spot along Venner Meadows Road we had ‘stonking’ views of a brilliant male Williamson’s Sapsucker.

Williamson's Sapsucker. OK Falls, BC. Photo Logan Lalonde.
Williamson’s Sapsucker. OK Falls, BC. Photo Logan Lalonde.

High overhead Logan pointed out an adult Northern Goshawk, but unfortunately it disappeared before anyone except Logan and myself saw it. On our way back down to the valley bottom we paused at the top of Irrigation Ck Rd and enjoyed some Ponderosa Pine species like Pygmy Nuthatch, Cassin’s Finch and another calling Northern Pygmy-Owl.

Group photo taken by Richard Kobayashi.
Group photo taken by Richard Kobayashi.

At the Vaseux Cliffs a Canyon Wren sang several times and sat atop a rock for a few brief moments during which time a number of the tour members had scope views of the bird. Over the cliffs two Golden Eagles kept us nicely entertained as they sailed back and forth. A Rough-legged Hawk briefly joined them as well. We made our way to Oliver and the Lakeside Resort where we spent the night. Logan showed the group the nesting Great Horned Owl on the property.

Great Horned Owl nesting at Tucelnuit Lake, Oliver, BC. Photo Logan Lalonde.
Great Horned Owl nesting at Tucelnuit Lake, Oliver, BC. Photo Logan Lalonde.

We had dinner at the local golf course restaurant where, appropriately a Great Horned Owl landed on the telephone pole outside as we ate. We tried some owling along White Lake Road after dinner, but luck wasn’t on our side, despite what appeared to be good conditions. We heard a Great Horned Owl calling, and saw another sitting atop a telephone pole in the spotlight. A couple of the tour members, along with Logan, heard calling Western Screech-Owl, but the birds were too far away for many to hear.

April 3 – Several folks explored the grounds of the Lakeside Resort and Tucelnuit Lake, finding Wood Ducks, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Osprey, and a number of other species. Eastern Fox Squirrel, a species introduced into Washington State that then spread into the southern part of the Okanagan, were seen at the resort also. We began our birding at Road 22 where we located a Bewick’s Wren that was seen by some and heard by us all. Several Downy Woodpeckers were most cooperative, perching right beside the path.

Downy Woodpecker. Road 22, Osoyoos, BC. Photo Logan Lalonde.
Downy Woodpecker. Road 22, Osoyoos, BC. Photo Logan Lalonde.

Belted Kingfishers called as they flew up the channel and Marsh Wren chattered from a marsh nearby. In the sky overhead, I pointed out an adult Peregrine Falcon that sailed by in the direction of ‘The Throne’. We saw an adult Bald Eagle on its nest high in the newly leafing branches of a cottonwood. Northern Harriers put on a nice show with one particular male doing a flight display right across the road in front of us. Up to four Long-billed Curlews flew in and briefly landed in fields before carrying on elsewhere. Some members saw Northern Rough-winged Swallow over the river with the numerous Violet-green and Tree swallows. Our first White-crowned Sparrows scratched about in the grass on the side of the path and Spotted Towhees skulked about as well. One last attempt for wetland species paid off with brief views of a Marsh Wren.

Another quick stop at the cliffs at Vaseux produced little, though we did enjoy watching both Golden and Bald eagles soar overhead. The usual species were present here with Say’s Phoebe, Western Meadowlark and Spotted Towhee tallied.

Western Meadowlark at Vaseux Lake, BC. April 3, 2015. Chris Charlesworth
Western Meadowlark at Vaseux Lake, BC. April 3, 2015. Chris Charlesworth

We had lunch at Mahoney Lake where we scanned the lake and found the continuing male Eurasian Wigeon in with several other duck species. Our route then took us past White Lake where Western Meadowlarks sang, American Kestrels patrolled the roadsides and both Mountain and Western bluebirds occupied fence posts. The Red Roost Gift Shop in Kaleden was great as usual with dozens of birds visiting the feeders. Cassin’s Finches were a big hit, as were flocks of Pine Siskins, and both Hairy and Downy woodpeckers.

Cassin's Finch. Red Roost Gift Shop, Kaleden, BC. Photo Logan Lalonde.
Cassin’s Finch. Red Roost Gift Shop, Kaleden, BC. Photo Logan Lalonde.

On our way back to Kelowna we stopped in the Peachland area and after some real hard searching we finished off our fantastic tour with a lovely roosting Western Screech-Owl.

Western Screech-Owl. Peachland, BC. Photo Nigel Eggers.
Western Screech-Owl. Peachland, BC. Photo Nigel Eggers.

In the end, we had 5 species of owl, and close to 15 individuals on our tour. Our total bird species count was 93, interestingly, the same tally we had on our first tour March 29-31.

Chris Charlesworth

 

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