Okanagan Winter Birding

January 15, 2016 – A group of 8 hardy birders gathered in Kelowna at 8 AM and we made our way east through the city and up Hwy 33 towards Joe Rich. We paused at Pyman Road where an adult dark-morph Rough-legged Hawk was a nice treat to see.

Rough-legged Hawk, near Kelowna, BC. Jan 15, 2016. Kathy Knuszdorfer.

Also nice here, a flock of approximately 30 Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches flew past, though not everyone got to see them.

Group birding in the mist on the Black Mountain Grasslands near Kelowna, BC. Jan 15, 2016. Richard Kobayashi.

Next stop was at Hawk Road where we watched feeders that have been hosting a Blue Jay all winter long. The jay wouldn’t appear this morning, so we spent a while sifting through about 50 Common Redpolls, searching for any that might fit the bill for Hoary. No luck. There were a few Pine Siskins mixed in with the redpolls.

Along Philpott Road we had good looks at 2 Chestnut-backed Chickadees, along with the more regular Mountain and Black-capped Chickadees. Two Brown Creepers called several times, but showed themselves only briefly. A little group of Golden-crowned Kinglets were very nice to see here as well. Heard but not seen along Philpott Road were both Pine Grosbeaks and White-winged Crossbills. Along Three Forks Road we had quite a nice group of Chestnut-backed Chickadees, with about 10 estimated. This area of the Okanagan (the Joe Rich Valley), is the only area where Chestnut-backed Chickadees are regularly found.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee. Joe Rich, BC. Jan 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

We then made our way up to McCulloch Road where a short stop at the Nordic Cross Country Ski Cabin was made to check out the feeders and utilize the facilities. A nice surprise at the feeders, a Brown Creeper came in to take suet.

Brown Creeper. McCulloch Rd. Kelowna, BC. Jan 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

It was a glorious day at high elevations with sunshine and blue skies and the temperature was hovering around freezing. Around Idabel Lake we finally connected with noisy groups of both Steller’s and Gray jays.

Gray Jay. Idabel Lake. Kelowna, BC. Jan 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

On our way back down to Kelowna we paused at Hawk Road once again to see if the Blue Jay was around, and sure enough there it was. We all had a decent look at the jay which has been around since at least early December. Also new for the day, a female Downy Woodpecker was in the yard too.

Blue Jay, near Kelowna, BC. Jan 15, 2016. Kathy Knuszdorfer.

We visited Scenic Canyon, along Mission Creek, where we had an American Dipper foraging in the icy water. At the little spring we had good views of the two continuing White-throated Sparrows that have also been around since mid-December.

White-throated Sparrow. Kelowna, BC. Jan 15, 2016. Kathy Knuszdorfer.

Try as we might, no sign of the Winter Wren that had been present just before Christmas either. We then had a stroll along Mission Creek near the Ec0-Center, hoping for a roosting Western Screech-Owl, but the pesky little owl must have been sleeping in a different location today.

We had dinner at Lesley’s place on Mountain Avenue in Kelowna and after dinner we were treated to seeing a pair of Great Horned Owls in a tall conifer. Lesley says she hears the owls often, but we were pretty happy to see them. We tried our hand at some more owling this evening, but all we added was another Great Horned Owl in the Hall Road area. By the end of day 1 we had tallied close to 40 species.

Great Horned Owl, Kelowna, BC. Jan 15, 2016. Kathy Knuszdorfer.

January 16, 2016 – Snow was falling quite steadily when we met at 8 AM, but we braved the elements and made our way to Hall Road in Kelowna. This was coined as ‘Winter Tour’, after all, so snow was to be expected at some point. The Hall Road neighborhood did not disappoint. Our second owl species, a Northern Pygmy-Owl appeared and showed itself along Maquinna Road. Also a real highlight in the Hall Road neighborhood was the sighting of over a dozen Pine Grosbeaks, including several brilliantly colored males feeding on Mountain Ash berries.

Pine Grosbeak, Kelowna, BC. Jan 15, 2016. Kathy Knuszdorfer.

As we made our way to the Maude Roxby Bird Sanctuary, many of us caught a glimpse of a Merlin perched in a birch next to K.L.O. Rd.  Maude Roxby was dead with not even a single gull to be found so we carried on across the Bennett Bridge and made our way south to Penticton. Once in Penticton, by which time the snow had mostly ended, we headed for the Esplanade / Yacht Club area where a walk along the trails yielded several interesting species. A Yellow-rumped Warbler was seen quite well by many, while an even rarer Orange-crowned Warbler called several times but remained unseen. Michelle spotted a lone Cedar Waxwing, sandwiched between two American Robins atop a tree. Michelle also spotted a Bewick’s Wren, a species that has extended its range from Washington north into the Okanagan in recent years. There were several Cassin’s Finches noted among the more numerous House Finches, though all of the Cassin’s we saw were females.

Cassin’s Finch. Penticton, BC. Jan 16, 2016. Richard Kobayashi.

As we made our way back to the vehicles we were met by my girlfriend Cindy who came bearing gifts of coffee, tea and muffins. Before we left Penticton we paused for a few minutes at the peach along Okanagan Lake to look for gulls. A few species were present including California, Ring-billed, Herring, Glaucous-winged and a single adult Thayer’s gull. A small flock of Greater Scaup flew past and I spotted a male Canvasback embedded in the flock. At OK Falls we had up to 8 American Dippers which we though was quite a good total. Also on the river were mixed groups of Common and Barrow’s goldeneye, along with a few Bufflehead. We had lunch at the south end of Skaha Lake and then peered through the scope at several new species of waterbird. There were good numbers of both Hooded and Common mergansers and there were also two female Red-breasted Mergansers present as well, the latter of which being quite uncommon in the Okanagan. Horned, Pied-billed and Red-necked grebes, as well as Great Blue Heron were also all tallied here.

At Vaseux Lake we had a stroll along the boardwalk. Birds were few and far between in the bush along the trail, but we scoped a number of waterfowl out on the lake itself. Over 50 Trumpeter Swans were noted, and try as we might we could not turn any of them into Tundras. Ring-necked Duck, Mallard, American Wigeon, Common Goldeneye and Hooded Merganser were all counted on the ice-free, north end of the lake. An adult Golden Eagle was briefly seen as it disappeared behind a ridge to the east. A quick trip up to the cliffs produced a good number of Bighorn Sheep, including several majestic rams. We had excellent views of Chukar here as well. Down on Vaseux Lake we scoped a carcass on the ice while Bald Eagles, Common Ravens and several Coyotes battled over who would eat next.

Chukar. Vaseux Lake, BC. Jan 16, 2016. Richard Kobayashi.

We reached our motel in Oliver on the shores of Tucelnuit Lake and had a little downtime before making our way out for dinner. After dinner we all piled back into the vehicles and headed south to Road 22. Here we saw and heard a peculiar Great Horned Owl that was giving a single hoot call, quite similar to the call of Long-eared Owl. We also had fantastic views of a little Northern Saw-whet Owl here this evening.

Northern Saw-whet Owl, Osoyoos, BC. Jan 16, 2016. Richard Kobayashi.

January 17, 2016 -We said goodbye to Cindy and made our way back to Road 22 this morning. Light snow began to fall once again as we began searching through the trees for roosting owls. We had no luck finding owls today however. Along the southeast dyke we had up to 3 American Tree Sparrows, first spotted by Michelle Hamilton. Other species new to the tour included Northern Harrier and finally our first Mourning Dove. We made a quick ‘pit stop’ in Osoyoos before heading west into the Richter Pass. At the Elkink Ranch we were overwhelmed by the number of Chukar. We estimated close to 100 of these introduced game birds were present. The highlight of the day for many, several coveys totaling up to 30 Gray Partridge were seen this afternoon only feet from the US border at the Nighthawk Crossing.

Gray Partridge, Nighthawk border crossing, BC. Jan 17, 2016. KathyKnuszdorfer.

More Chukar were at Chopaka as well, and we all agreed we had never seen so many Chukar before in a single day. An inquisitive little group of 10 Common Redpolls landed on the telephone wires here as well and we seen very well. It has turned out to be an excellent winter for redpolls in the Okanagan Valley.

Common Redpolls. Chopaka, BC. Jan 17, 2016. Kathy Knuszdorfer.

We had lunch right next to the border before returning to Vaseux Lake for a quick look at the cliffs. I heard a Canyon Wren very briefly at the cliffs, but the little devil would not show himself today for the group. On our way through Penticton we stopped at the SS Sicamous to look for a Eurasian Wigeon, which we quite easily found. It was a female Eurasian Wigeon, and she was mingling with several American Wigeon, excellent for comparison. The Eurasian was the last species we added on our trip which brought the total of birds up to 82 species.

We all had a great time, with excellent birds, and very good company. Thanks to all for coming along, and I’m already looking forward to the Winter Tour in 2017.

Group shot. Penticton, BC. Jan 16, 2016. Richard Kobayashi.

Chris Charlesworth


One thought on “Okanagan Winter Birding”

  1. Hi Chris,
    It was a fantastic trip and we saw so many nice birds. 82 species is a good number for a winter tour. Thanks for writing a great report and including some nice photos from our trip.

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